This has been a year of geographic expansion for SOI with new courses in Washington State, USA, then Tajikistan, and now the Himalaya of Nepal. Each new territory can bring new challenges of language, marketing and student needs. Despite the potential difficulty, our confidence stems from our previous successes.
When entering a new region, finding an adequate and safe location to hold a course is one of the early, but easier challenges we face. It is not too hard to find interested students either; enthusiasm to learn is rampant. However, one of our greatest challenges is finding the necessary funding from outside sources, employers, and the students themselves to assure that our programs are sustainable. As an organization, we have chosen our course locations with the needs of students and markets at the forefront of our minds, but we must consider sustainability and growth as well. While employers are eager to help, many see what we are doing as “just teaching another first aid course.”
It takes a lot of explaining and demonstrating on our part to show that our courses are not just another first aid course to those outside the classroom, but rather a well-honed class that emphasizes practical and useful skills for the everyday life, and professional care while working as a guide. This concept can be hard to sell to foreign and domestic companies alike, whether they have in-house training, or they feel students wanting the training should pursue it themselves. In our experience, it takes a cultural shift among students and the companies for which they work to accept that our courses bring a unique style of teaching with a guiding emphasis, that the benefits of the training extend to companies, clients and communities as well, and that training together brings companies together (an important fact given that most rescues/emergencies require a collaboration of efforts beyond one company or organization). While our courses have a proven track record amongst varying cultures and languages, sharing these concepts and cultural shifts are currently the biggest challenges for us as an organization.
Did we gloss over language? Of course, it is one of our persistent challenges. Although we have proficient instructors in each language, we have yet to find a qualified instructor that speaks perfect English, Swahili, Russian, Sherpa, and Nepali, or any number of other languages. So beyond enlisting Rosetta Stone, we have built our model around training handpicked locals that have strong English skills to help with translation while working towards an instructor position. Shikuku Ooko is a great example: as one of our Kenyan instructors who began translating for our courses, he has been sponsored by SOI to become a Wilderness EMT and Lead Instructor for our organization. We believe this model empowers our instructors and students alike, and significantly adds to the sustainability and value of our programs.
Which leads back to Nepal. Climbing Sirdar and friend, Phunuru Sherpa, has been helping plan and will be helping teach our upcoming courses. Like many Sherpa, his enthusiasm and desire to help his brethren is infective. So, now, as the Himalayan climbing and trekking season wraps up, we will teach a Helicopter safety and landing zone course coupled with our three day Wilderness First Aid (WFA) curriculum. Follow us as we launch a program into one of the most historic and impressive mountaineering and trekking regions of the world…