Heading for the hills

From comfort zone into great outdoors.

She’s just 16-years-old, has notions of a career in law or business management, but in the meantime, she is trekking around and over mountains at the weekend learning navigation and tracking, and other search and rescue skills.

“It’s so worth it,” says Indrea Werder, a second-year member of Tauranga Youth Search and Rescue programme.

“On a navigation camp you are walking between different points carrying a pack with everything you need for two nights. It’s a long, tiring day.

“But when you return to base on a Sunday, you think ‘wow, I did that’. It’s a really good feeling. 

“Sometimes you can surprise yourself at what you can achieve?”

Indrea is making a pitch for Youth Search and Rescue or YSAR which now has applications open for the highly-regarded three-year-long programme. Twenty four new trainees are accepted each year.

 The students participate in a weekly lesson and regular weekend outdoor training exercises that focus on survival, rescue and geotechnical data-gathering skills. Students learn to take care of themselves in difficult outdoor environments and eventually help police and skilled volunteers with official searches.

Along the way, students aged 14 and up collect first aid and other qualifications, trial specialist technical equipment and aim to complete the Duke of Edinburgh programme.

“I didn’t go tramping or anything outdoors until Dad spotted a newspaper article on YSAR,” says Indrea. “My sister Virginija and I thought it would be cool to join up. Suddenly we were right into it.”

And she does her own promoting – telling other kids that it’s a great thing to get involved with. “If you are a shy person, and I was, it gives you confidence. I feel a lot more confident after joining YSAR.

“It takes you right out of your comfort zone. It’s really good.”

And you are forming great relationships. “There are 14 students in our year and it brings everyone very close. We all get on because we depend and rely on each other.”

This year, for the first time, YSAR is offering a range of scholarships, valued at between $300 and $2000.

These are funded by Zespri to assist students who could not otherwise afford the programme.

And next year, a small group of YSAR students will fly to San Francisco, to participate in an international exchange programme with an American search and rescue organisation. “We’ve now established very strong ties with the phenomenal Marin County SAR group in northern California, which led to our visit there last year.

“We’ve hosted some of their youth members and they’re keen for us to come back next year, to join the major search and rescue exercise they hold in Yosemite National Park each year.

“It’s an incredible opportunity.” Steve says volunteer work is part of the YSAR course and both current and past students make a major contribution to the community.

“What’s more, some of these young people will very likely go on to save lives.”

He credits much of the programme’s success to the leadership and knowledge of trainers who include people with military and medical backgrounds, outdoor education specialists, police officers and firefighters.

YSAR was launched in 2008 in response to an aging search and rescue volunteer base, and it has surpassed all expectations and attracted interest from throughout New Zealand and around the world, including Canada and Singapore. More than 350 students have graduated from the programme, which last year expanded into the Auckland region.

“Being a YSAR graduate opens a world of possibilities to these young people and they find having this on their resume helps when applying for jobs or further education.”

For more YSAR information and an application form, visit: www.ysar.org.nz

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