Namibia STRETCH Expedition
After five years of planning, navigating the pandemic, and postponing and rescheduling, we finally made it to Namibia for our annual Stretch Expedition! In 2018, we started planning our Stretch to Namibia for April 2020, but we all know how that story ended. We rescheduled the trip four times before finally embarking on our adventure in April 2023.
People often ask how we decide where to go and what to do for our annual Stretch Expeditions. At The Prouty Project, we all have the opportunity to volunteer to “lead” a stretch expedition. The leader of the expedition has the autonomy to decide where to go, what type of adventure we will have, and who we will partner with. The only stipulations are that it needs to have some component of stretching outside of our comfort zones and every other year is a service trip, focused on giving back to the world. I signed up to lead the 2020 adventure, which would be a service trip. I sought out to find a service project that aligned with my passions, took us to a place I had never been before, and included elements of my favorite types of adventure.
I eventually found Pod Volunteer, who helped us organize a trip to Namibia for a service trip focused on desert elephant conservation. This was the perfect adventure for me because I have had a lifelong passion for elephants, I had never been to Namibia, and it centered around my favorite outdoor adventure: camping.
We partnered with Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA), a nonprofit organization that helps build peaceful relationships between free-roaming desert-adapted elephants and local communities in Namibia. EHRA’s mission is to implement practical solutions that help combat elephant-human conflict, and thereby secure a future for Namibia’s desert elephants. They do this through building protective walls around waterpoints, educating locals on conflict mitigation tactics, and continuous monitoring of the different elephant herds.
Our two-week volunteer project was split into two parts: Build Week & Patrol Week. During Build Week, we set up a campsite in the village of Anixab, where we would eat, work, sleep, and go to the bathroom for the next five days. Our goal was to build a protective wall around the local community’s water pump, powered by solar panel, to provide drinking water to both the village and the elephants – and the protective wall ensured that elephants had access to water without damaging the infrastructure. We were split up into three work groups: rock collectors, cement mixers, and wall constructers. Everything was done by hand! We would build in the morning, take a long lunch break during the hottest part of the day, and continue to build in the evening until dinner time. One day, we had a giant visitor, Porthos the bull elephant, wander into our camp, preventing us from using the toilet tent for the rest of the day. He was friendly, kept to himself, and surprisingly very quiet! We saw him before we heard him. It was amazing!
During Patrol Week, volunteers have different “missions” depending on the needs of the different elephant herds. Our goal was to find one elephant in particular – Porthos. Porthos was the elephant who came to our campsite during Build Week, so we didn’t expect him to be so hard to find. We learned how to track elephants, Porthos in particular, by following footprints, looking for and inspecting elephant dung, and interviewing the local villagers of when they last saw or encountered Porthos. It was thrilling but equally disappointing that we searched for Porthos for nearly 1.5 days without being able to find him. We did not expect to have such a challenging experience finding such a gigantic animal. Our guides sensed our disappointment and decided to go check in on another elephant herd – the Huab elephants – instead. We spent two days with the Huab elephants, observing their behaviors, their interactions with one another, and assessing any changes in the herd or herd dynamics. The encounter with the Huab elephants was extra special, because one of the elephants, Omuwa, came over to me, sniffed me, and touched my leg with her trunk. It was a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. At the end of Patrol Week, we once again set out to find Porthos, and lo and behold, with the expertise of our guides, we found him! It was a magical moment to see him walking off in the distance and gave us a sense of closure and accomplishment for our trip.
Each day we were awoken with coffee delivered by the daily “duty team” who was responsible for preparing and cleaning up all the meals for that day. Evenings were spent cooking, relaxing by the fire, playing games, journaling, reading, and getting to know each other. We slept out under the stars each night – some in tents, some in individual mosquito pop-up nets, and the bravest slept without any protection at all (from the scorpions!). The first night, the middle of the trip, and the last night, we stayed at EHRA Base Camp, where we could enjoy simple luxuries like a hot shower, a long drop toilet, sinks for handwashing, and even laundry service! We slept in a hand-built treehouse that could sleep all 21 of us, which was a new experience for me. Volunteering with EHRA was an incredible experience and I am so grateful for their guidance and leadership on this trip. I hope to be back someday!
To learn about this trip from another Stretch participant’s perspective, please visit the blog of Diane Berthel. We were lucky enough to have a photographer and videographer, Tiffany Thompson, as one of our participants! Watch her 6 minute video of our trip here.
Images from the Trip:
Photo credit: Tiffany Thompson, Jill Johnson, Nancy Peterson, Matt Gustafson, Kristin Jonason
Coming Soon: STRETCH 2024 – Roatán
If you’d like to learn more about STRETCH Expedition please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes