The SASSAW expedition to Ecuador was a huge success. Fifteen intrepid Grade 11 students spent 16 days in Ecuador, involved in service projects, learning about Ecuadorian culture, and climbing Cayambe, the highest point on the equator at 5,700 meters.
Emily Keating, Upper School math and science teacher and Head of Flavelle House, and I, Coordinator of Outdoor Education, led the August trek. It was the first international service expedition since the pandemic hit in March 2020.
SASSAW stands for St. Andrew’s Society for Service Around the World, but we’ve been known to use a shorter acronym to explain the expedition: S – service, A – adventure, and C – culture.
We travel to a new country each year to provide service, pursue adventure, and experience the region's unique culture. We do all this through the lens of how that region or country balances tourism with the development goals of the local populace.
The students spent a day outside Quito, the capital of Ecuador, orienting themselves before flying 1,000 kilometres west over the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos Islands. The islands are known for many endemic species, such as the giant tortoise, the blue-footed booby, and Darwin’s finches. Charles Darwin stopped at the islands in 1842 while on his round-the-world voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle. His discoveries on the Galapagos Islands helped formulate his theory of evolution.
The St. Andrew’s team was able to get a close look at the amazing giant tortoises. Once facing extinction from introduced rats, which eat the eggs and the young tortoises, and being captured for food by passing ships, the tortoises are now at a healthy population level. They are bred and raised in captivity for 10 years, then introduced into the wild. For four days, we helped feed them and maintain the ecology park in which they are protected. It was a privilege to work with these unique animals.
It was illuminating for the students to experience how the islands balance tourism, development, and environmental initiatives.
After spending six days on the islands, we returned to the mainland to acclimate for our attempt on Cayambe, a volcano that last erupted in 1786. Hiking and camping were made difficult due to the rain and the thinner air. Driving to the alpine hut at the base of Cayambe was an adventure. The road was being rebuilt, and the four-wheel drive vehicles laboured through the volcanic mud to arrive safely.
Once there, we strapped on our crampons as we needed traction to travel over snow and ice. After another two days of training and climbing to 5,100 meters, Mother Nature had the final say, and we were unable to summit due to extremely high winds and falling snow. We came down with a new appreciation for climbing mountains at high altitudes. On our final day, we visited a museum that sits on the equator and stood as a group with a foot in each hemisphere. We finished with an Ecuadorian breakfast at McDonald’s, a strange but fitting end to a great trip.
The SASSAW 2024 class will be going to Morocco next August to support Berber communities recovering from September’s devastating earthquake.
Students receive a senior-level geography credit for the course and enrol for one of three reasons: the sheer adventure of travelling to a new country, earning their Duke of Edinburgh Award, or bolstering their university application.
By Angus Murray, SASSAW Lead Facilitator