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Education on the Brink

Sabrina Sideris

Biking walking climbing with your own two feet two hands, navigation services provided by your own eyes, lashes your only windshield-wipers, without horsepower or combustion engine, powered by the muscles in your limbs, no assigned seating, no reclining feature, no oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling in high-pressure moments, no authoritative voice to tell you when the turbulence will pass. The wind rain and snow, the sun heat and blaze are your traveling companions. You don't speak the language, you've never been here before and no one you know is nearbynot even Lonely Planet can guide you through this far-away place. You are still years from home. The brink is the upper edge, the furthest point you can go before danger or discovery, the moment when something is likely to begin. You are about to reach the brink.

The Brink Expedition is an innovative educational experience that teaches students about far-away places and cultures other than their own. The project promotes an understanding of and a fascination for our complex world. Raising funds for humanitarian relief, the Brink Expedition sends a courageous traveler named Kendon Glass across the world in an unconventional voyage scenario. Without using a car, boat or plane, the intrepid voyager crosses 50,000 kilometers or 31,055 miles. On foot, using a canoe and a kayak, in a sail boat and on a mountain bike, he encounters some of the most difficult terrain and extreme weather on the planet. His expedition begins in Venezuela, then Kendon travels on to Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Next, he traverses the Atlantic Ocean in a sail boat -- a harrowing and risky adventure -- before exploring Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Next he visits Iran, then he journeys into Central Asia, stopping in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, then China, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Tibet, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, and finally, he returns to Australia. The global trek will take Kendon over four years.

All of his global experiences are shared with students back in his home country. Brink uses technology to relate the adventures of Kendon to an audience comfortably seated inside, out of the elements. On the web site, his latitudinal and longitudinal location is tracked with a global positioning system and published for spectators. Kendon's adventures are shared with Australian schoolchildren through live satellite link-ups and regular online journals. He carries a pocket PC, satellite phone, video camera and a battery recharger, and he uses solar power to run these appliances. Using a lightweight solar panel that was donated by Uni-Solar,, he collects solar energy while he cycles, by placing a collection module across his rear panniers so that they are exposed to sunlight. Even if the unit receives just 3 hours of sunlight, he will have enough power to use his equipment for 1-2 hours each day, as well as occasionally re-charging his satellite phone and batteries. The Brink Expedition has also developed a web-based curriculum related to global exploration, which can be used by educators all over the world, not just Australian teachers. This project is a fantastic example of education for global awareness and environmental sustainability. By following Kendon's adventure, students learn far more about the world in which we live than they would from text books. Young people are encouraged to respect the natural environment and they develop an understanding of the importance of their active global citizenship, as they explore the values and programs of Oxfam Australia and learn by Kendon's example.

John Fien, an Australian educator who has worked at Griffith University, another project supporter, and studied youth culture and consumption, writes about the characteristics of education for environmentalism and global awareness in Teaching for a Sustainable World. Fien emphasizes the importance of increasing students awareness of the cultural, technological, political, social, economic and environmental forces which foster or impede sustainable development. Students must learn that each of them has a vital role to play in protecting the environment. Through their personal and political values, lifestyle choices and attitudes toward themselves and the Earth our host, each student will make an impacteither positive or negative.

According to Fien, environmental education should encourage creativity and innovation. Certainly, by participating vicariously in Kendon's journey, the young Australians are gaining a sense of appreciation for his ingenuity and learning to cultivate creativity in their own lives. Fien also advises that environmental education should encourage critical thinking and stimulate a sense of solidarity with all the beings on Earth and an interest in cultural interchange. The Brink Expedition also identifies these educational objectives, as well as an emphasis on adventure and personal goal-setting.

Oxfam Australia,, has a vision of a fair world in which people control their own lives, their basic rights are achieved and the environment is sustained. They are working to create a world with united global citizens living in a spirit of peace, tolerance and compassion, challenging poverty and taking direct action for a healthier natural environment for all.

Edmund O'Sullivan, another educator, says in Transformative Learning that human beings have it within our power to make life extinct on this planet. This is an enormous weight: can educators use it to teach students to take responsibility for themselves, their communities and the entire world? The Brink Expedition hopes so. Recognizing that we must all carry the burden of protecting this spinning blue ball of rock on which we live, or suffer together the consequences of its destruction, the Brink Expedition teaches young people about their responsibility for our collective well-being and survival.

So far, Kendon has passed through South America on his bike and sailed across the Atlantic sea. Up next: Europe, followed by his journey along the Silk Road of Asia. When he finally returns to Australia and recovers, it would be nice if his next expedition can involve a group of students who actually participate with him first-hand. Of course, the danger inherent in the travel and confrontation of the elements would make that almost impossible, but the direct field experience would offer vital global perspective to young people, and would certainly be the course they would remember forever!

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