A Trip of A Lifetime: Ladakh, India

This past summer, I went to Ladakh, India for a nine-day cultural exposure/climate change awareness camp with sixteen other kids (with an organization called Journeys With Meaning), none of whom were from the United States. Ladakh is located on the foothills of the Himalayas, bordering India and China, and is incredibly scenic. Honestly, when my dad told me about the camp, I was a little apprehensive, wondering whether I’d easily connect with kids who have a different culture than I do. I was worried about the non-Western toilets, cold showers, no heating or air conditioning, and other trivial things like that. Once I landed at the campsite, called the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, all my worries disappeared.

Some of us met and immediately became close at the Mumbai airport, and the others I met at the Ladakh airport. We spent the first day sleeping, getting used to the extreme 3000-meter elevation, and getting to know each other. We all became extremely close within the first 24 hours, which was a pleasant surprise for all of us. The next day, we met the SECMOL students (an alternative school for kids with fewer opportunities to get a good education) and really got to know them. I realized that, despite our many differences, we had many things in common with the SECMOL kids, from our favorite sports to favorite subjects in school. The Journeys With Meaning kids (JwM-us), did various activities with the SECMOL students, including playing games, eating meals, and just talking to us, which was helping them improve their English. We tried to learn some Ladakhi (the primary language spoken in Ladakh), but it's safe to say that they’re much better at English than we’ll ever be at Ladakhi.

SECMOL also promotes environmental awareness and teaches about the effects of climate change. It is a completely self-sufficient camp, getting its electricity from solar power and other clean energies. Everything is made with biodegradable materials, making sure that no waste is created. It taught me a lot about how poorly humans are treating our planet and how a few minor tweaks can make such profound positive impacts on the environment. We had discussions about how to reduce our own environmental footprints and what we could do to influence others to make the same sort of change. I learned about some statistics which made me realize that climate change is not a far off problem; it has already done so much damage and is continuing to do more at an accelerating rate. The JwM kids went on an amazing trek up one of the mountains, where we saw crystal clear streams and got to enjoy the fresh air. It was definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had.

After SECMOL, which is where we stayed for the first five days, we stayed with a family in a village close by. It was a really cool experience to stay with a real Ladakhi family and learn about their village and culture. Their hospitality was out of this world. They were so friendly, welcoming, and were ready help us with anything we needed. I even got to hold their one year old baby girl, which made my heart melt.

Ultimately, Ladakh, SECMOL, and this entire experience turned out to be nothing like I expected. I had so much fun, developed a new passion for helping the planet, and made some amazing friends, who I hope to stay in touch with for years to come.

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