Organizing Northern Province’s first annual Camp TREE – Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment – may just be the best thing I’ve done in my Peace Corps service. Not only did I get to spend four days in Lavushi Manda National Park, camping above a waterfall and hiking to the top of one of Zambia’s tallest peaks (over 1,800 meters), I got to do it all with one of the most amazing groups of kids I’ve ever spent time with.
These young Zambians – teenagers from eight villages across Northern and Muchinga provinces – were on fire from the moment we arrived. Intelligent, excited, eager to learn, and just plain hilarious, they made my day every day. In between activities about biodiversity and lessons on the importance of trees, we went on nature walks, swam in the Lukulu River, and played a ton of games. Camp TREE felt like a gift straight from the heart of Zambia – one that left me so happy, so inspired, that sometimes I thought my wide grin might just break my face right open.
Blue Pride at the top of Mount Lavushi.
Morning exercises with Scott and Cody.
The Green Pride looking for river-adapted organisms.
Ba Jonathan chasing Ba Mary in a game of Duck, Duck, Goose.
Outdoor classroom: the camp listens to Ba Jonathan and Bastiaan talk about the park on our first full day.
Taylor with the girls – plus Ba Annedy (left) and park intern Annabelle (behind).
Orange pride at the top of Mt. Lavushi.
One, two, three – SPLASH!
Cynthia specifically requested that I take her photo with Cody at the top of the mountain. Awwww …
Almost there …
The Green Pride goes on an early-morning nature walk.
Amy sunbathing below the second half of the waterfall.
Cornelius, Stephen, and Zach in the back of the truck.
The Green Pride taking measurements of ground litter depth for a simple habitat diversity observation.
Getting tree seedlings to take home from Lavushi Manda’s native tree nursery. Kingsley (left) and Stephen are front and center.
In the back of the big open-bed truck that brought us to the base of Mount Lavushi, the kids told stories and cheered for each person on board.
Ba Jonathan whips up enthusiasm among the kids in the back of the big open-bed truck that brought us to the base of Mount Lavushi.
Brian records findings for the Green Pride’s diversity plot.
Cornelius represents the strong heartwood at the center of a (human) tree.
Stephen is clearly outmatched by giant PCVs Scott (left) and Cody, but he participated eagerly in every game and activity – and held his own.
Miriam (L) and Prudence, two awesome girls who each were chosen as “Camp TREE student of the day.”
The breakfast-serving crew: L to R: Taylor, Zach, Scott, Trevor, Cody, and Amy. Without these guys stepping in to help with all the essential details, TREE wouldn’t have happened.
Views of wetlands and part of the 40-kilometer-long mountain range that runs through the center of the park.
Gertrude, Purity, Miriam, Cynthia, Naomy, Bridget (peeking from behind), me, and Prudence.
Camp TREE participants at the summit of Mount Lavushi.
Cynthia and Gertrude looking for floating plants in the Lukulu River.
Snack time at the summit.
Girls of Camp TREE playing under the waterfall.
Waterfall view from camp.
Stephen was voted one of our Camp TREE students of the day! (I was so proud …)
The breakfast line-up.
Go Green! Green Pride at the top of Mount Lavushi. Back row L to R: Gertrude, Zach, adopted Greenie Ba Jonathan (from the park staff), Ba Allan, Stephen. Front row L to R: Ba Moses (Zach’s counterpart), Cynthia, me, and Brian.
Taking a break on the way up Mount Lavushi: Trevor, Taylor, Cornelius, Kingsley (seated), Adam, me, and Golden (seated, with the red icitenge backpack).
Cynthia, Bridget, Prudence, Naomy, and Dan hold up different parts of the “Web of Life.”
Crossing back over the river at the end of our morning nature walk.
PCVs listening attentively to a lesson.
Camp in a miombo woodland.
Prudence splashing PCV Taylor.
Purity and the Red Pride present their findings in their one-meter-square diversity plot.
Bastiaan explains the remnants of a mongoose’s last meal.
Yep, the Lukulu River was COLD!
Blue and Green pride PCVs enjoying the hike. L to R: Zach, Taylor, me, and Trevor.
Zach and Taylor (cut in half) in the truck with the kids.
Amy, Adam, Trevor, Scott, and Cody enjoy the breeze in the back of the truck.
Hiking up Mount Lavushi.
Gertrude leads the way across the Lukulu River on a morning nature walk.
Me with a cool euphorbia that I unfortunately could not hug. (It’s highly poisonous; hunters used to use these thorns on their spears and arrows, to kill game more quickly.)
Making a Human Tree! Different pride colors represented heartwood, xylem, phloem, cambium, bark, roots, and – up ton on PCVs’ shoulders – leaves! (That’s Stephen, left, and Brian, right – the tiniest members of the Green Pride.)
Lessons on tree planting from Kasanka Trust’s community outreach manager. Ba Mary (from Adam’s village) is in the foreground.
Mfuba Village at the top! Cynthia and me are in the back, Ba Allan and Stephen up front.
Green pride girls Cynthia (L) and Gertrude in the back of the truck.
Ba Jonathan whips up the kids’ enthusiasm for a string of “uwe, awe, imwe!” cheers to everyone on board. This one was directed at me.
So studious! I was so proud one morning to stumble upon half the camp taking studious notes from lessons the day before. This is the massive truck that took us from Kasama to the park.
Waterfall on the Lukulu River, just below our camp.
Golden and Miriam playing “Ninja” with Adam.
A colorful line of TREE T-shirt-clad campers snakes back down Mount Lavushi.
Views from the back of an open-bed truck on our way to the base of Mount Lavushi.
Camp TREE kids of the day Romeo and Purity.
Palm-fringed wetland at the base of the mountains.
Sunset from camp.
Stephen leads a game of Red Light, Green Light.
Orange Pride at the top of Mount Lavushi.
Games often went well into the evening. The kids never wanted to stop!
Shell of a land snail.
Waterfall below camp. In rainy season, apparently this is just a small rapid in the Lukulu River.
Mount Lavushi view.
View from the top of Mount Lavushi. Everything you can see is a part of the sprawling, 1,500km-square Lavushi Manda National Park.
Red Pride at the top of Mount Lavushi.
Web of Life food web lesson.
Excited and terrified all at the same time: PCVs Zach, Taylor, Adam and Trevor in the park’s giant bus on the way to Camp Tree on Day 1.
Cynthia records findings for the Green Pride’s diversity plot.