Wilderness International: out of school and into the wilderness

Photo: Reinhard Mink
Ten German students travelled to Canada last year to explore the last jungles and meet the Cowichan tribe. Back home, they take a stand for the protection of endangered nature and culture. The initiator was Wilderness International, a foundation in Dresden.

Our friend, the tree. | Photo: Sami Fayed
The classroom has changed: ten young people are sitting with members of the Cowichan tribe in the Canadian wilderness. A camping table replaces desks, a tarp the roof of the school. That is the backdrop when Cowichan member Qwustenuxum gives a lecture on fish. He slices the animal open at the gut, chops off head and tail. The students are standing around in a half circle watching him carefully. Later on, they have to gut and prepare one themselves. Suddenly Qwustenuxum stops and says softly: “Remember, we always thank nature.”

The students from high schools in Saxony and Hesse spent two weeks in Barkley Sound, a bay at Vancouver Island, to learn a lot about nature and the culture of the Indians. The foundation Wilderness International from Dresden supported them on this educational adventure. The organisation has been buying forest areas in West Canada since 2008 to protect it from wooding companies. “Until now we own – as the Indians care to say – the land of the eagles and the land of the wolves on the north-west coast,” explains Kai Andersch, one of the founders and chairman of Wilderness International. In total, it is almost two square kilometres. Time is running out though. On Vanoucver Island for example, only two percent of the area is still primeval forest. Kai: “Next we want to buy the land in the valley of the grizzlies.” Wilderness International finances it mostly with donations. More precisely: they sell forest sponsorships. Donators can buy 64 square meters of protected forest for 50 euros. The geo coordinates are noted on the certificate and online.

The students could hear the danger to paradise when they visited the Koksilah Forest. While they were spreading out their sleeping bags on the moss, the chainsaws were roaring in the background. Only at night, was it silent. The students pointed their torches in awe up the trunk of a more than 1,000-year-old tree. “We felt so little and meaningless,” remembers Jenin Ziemens from the Dresden-Bühlau Gymnasium. “At the same time we realised the extent of damage done when we humans destroy the trees.”

Just like in Schätzing’s book: the fascinating blue light. | Photo: Sami Fayed
Once a year, Wilderness International sends German kids on a wildness expedition to Canada. The aim and purpose of the trip is for them to make other German kids and young people aware of the environment upon their return, acting as so-called environment ambassadors. Part of their task is to organise exhibitions for the other students at different locations. With personal experiences as well as photos and videos, they can impress their peers far more than any biology lesson can.

The environment ambassadors are not the only young people that help to protect the Canadian forests. Once a year, Wilderness International organises so-called wildness runs in eight German cities. Around 70 schools take part. The students first have to search for sponsors who will donate a certain amount per round they run. Each student who runs and earns more than 50 euros receives a sponsorship certificate. Ten wildness runs are held every year. In total, students already ran 100,000 kilometres and thus protected 889.088 square metres of rain forest – which amounts to an area covering 13,892 class rooms à 65 square metres.

Wilderness International: Globetrotter supports the foundation

Many students can run but only almost a dozen can travel to Canada to meet the Cowichan tribe. There is an application procedure. Interested ninth to eleventh graders have to present a project with which they want to research and protect the nature and culture in Canada. “It is important that they burn for it!” says Kai.

Globetrotter Ausrüstung is supporting the activities with equipment and sponsorships for two to four environment ambassadors. Kai created the Globetrotter connection around 20 years ago when he purchased equipped for his journey to Canada. He met Klaus Weichbrodt, former store manager in Dresden, now in Cologne. Klaus had just returned from Canada, so they started talking – and keep in contact even today: “Kai puts so much energy into it,” says Klaus. “He fights for the wilderness and manages to convey the message to students.”

Look Anton, that’s how to gut a fish. | Photo: Reinhard Mink
Students enthusiasm also lasts a long time. The ten Canada travellers have already set up their exhibition stand and talked about their experiences more than twenty times. They talked about the trees, the long canoes and the Indians’ morning songs. Now they are putting together a cook book in German and English. Amongst the ingredients are nettles and fish marinaded in algae Cowichan style. “We had such a wonderful time in Canada and with the Cowichans,” says Theresa from the Dresden-Klotzsche Gymnasium. “It is our turn to give something back by way of our exhibition and the cook book.”

Three students explain:

I really wanted to see whales – but the first time, I was too early on the water, the second time, too late. I paddled further out with the Cowichan Harold Joe, who also taught me how to carve. We were sitting in the canoe when 200 metres in front of us a killer whale came snorting to the surface of the water. He dived and breathed out 20 metres in front of us again. It was exciting! It might be true that whales are friendly giants – but they are enormous!

 Egon Höfgen (18), Lößnitzgymnasium Radebeul



Ever since I read “The Swarm” by Frank Schätzing, I have been fascinated by the blue lights deep in the ocean so I had to see them for real. On our second night in Canada, we threw stones into the water – and suddenly they lit up! I ran straight into the water and appeared to be swimming in the middle of thousands of twinkling green sequins. The Indians say that such a phenomenon only happens with the right water temperature and the right phase of the moon. After my highschool degree, I want to study biomedical chemistry – to keep researching.

 Theresa Naacke (18), Gymnasium Dresden-Klotzsche


When I read that Wilderness International was searching for environment ambassadors in Canada, I got thirsty for adventure. I could go there and protect the jungle! Our visit to the Indians impressed me the most. They are very cautious about introducing strangers to their rituals. But they built drums with us and woke us up in the morning with traditional songs, and they taught us respect for nature and animals. I am proud to be an environment ambassador. 

Jenin Ziemens (16), Gymnasium Dresden-Bühlau



4-Seasons Info

A totem pole for Cologne! And carving courses for customers

Harold Joe from the Cowichan tribe comes to Globetrotter Cologne to carve a totem pole from a more than one-hundred-year-old tree. He will start on the 28.8. at 11 am. 

The finished pole will be presented on the 5.10. at 3 pm, accompanied by traditional dance and songs; customers are very welcome to join in. Afterwards, the totem pole will stand in the store in Cologne. Also, Globetrotter Cologne is offers carving workshops: on 28.8. (12 - 1.30 pm) for children from 10 to 13 years old and on 3.9. (11 am - 12.30) for children from 13 to 17 years. Cost: 5 euros. Carving courses for Globetrotter Card holders: on 31.8. and 21.9. (1 - 3.30 pm). Application at info point inside the store.

-> Become a sponsor and save the rain forest: www.wilderness-international.org.

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