The Expedition Club is a team of cadets who compliment RMCC’s officer-training system with leadership opportunities on a global scale. Facing the globalized future, these cadets recognize two certainties: one, in an era of asymmetric conflict, practically understanding why the world works is invaluable; and two, given the complex nature a modern warfare, spearheading this education as officers-in-training is an incredibly strategic investment.
During the past two-years cadets have honed their leadership skills beyond the campus in real-world settings at the ends of the Earth. This following leadership series shines a light on the cadets who have led adventure, academic and cultural missions — in some cases at personal cost — that have added tremendous value to RMCC’s growing international reputation for innovation and long-term thinking.
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OCdt Raakesh Bharathi, 2012 Amazon Expedition Academic Officer
It’s Not the Places, It’s the People
Raakesh Bharathi is currently the Expedition Club’s Director of Academics.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
I spent my summer leave travelling through Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. It was an incredible adventure, not because of the things I saw, but because of the people I met and the misconceptions it broke down. I had one goal, to absorb as much of the local culture as I could. I arrived in Panama city not knowing anyone; when you are in a foreign country, surrounded by people you have never seen before and with a culture you have never experienced before, naturally, you go into a sense of heightened awareness. I started to ask questions about why some things exist; In Panama the presidential palace is located within a hundred meters from the largest slum. I noticed the polarized distribution of wealth first hand. I started to notice people’s behaviour, trying to read the people who came up talk to me, assessing my safety at every turn.
The San Blas Islands – a chain of 400 islands – on the Caribbean coast of Panama is unexploited by tourism. The Panamanian government has given control of the islands to the indigenous Kuna Yala people who have never abandoned their traditional ways. I had the opportunity to spend time on an island the size of RMC’s inner field. The Kuna Yala people live simple lives; they take care of visitors, harvest coral reefs, and fish for food. Despite the incredible potential to develop tourism on their chain of islands, they have chosen a simple lifestyle, resisting the overdevelopment tourism brings. Sailing through the San Blas islands, you understand that it’s not all about economic development, increasing personal income; people like the Kuna Yala of Panama really are happy with a simple life. You stop seeing your surroundings from a western perspective and start to see things from their perspective.
After my time in Panama, I flew across the Darien Gap into Medellin, Colombia – former home of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar – to meet with a friend’s family. I experienced the bustling city of Medellin through the eyes of its citizens. Contrary to its international reputation as a dangerous destination, Medellin was safe. Located in the middle of a valley, it was arguably the most beautiful place I visited; with its endless rolling hills and its eternal spring, Medellin was eye opening. Having spoken to a few locals, most said that they only wanted the rest of the world to realize that the past is past; they continue to struggle with its poor reputation still lingering from the drug wars. I left Colombia pleasantly surprised. You realize that it’s one thing to read the newspapers back home, but it’s completely another when you are on the ground in a foreign country, experiencing its culture and interacting with its people first hand.
On my way into Quito, I thought about how surprising the trip had been so far, and wondered what Ecuador would be like. The expedition team travelled from Quito, crossing the Andes mountains overnight, to arrive in the sleepy little of village of Mishualli, on the edges of the Amazon Rain Forest. Our work in the local Quichawa community enabled them to have access to safe sanitation facilities. After a week’s worth of work, we had built bathrooms for families who otherwise would have still had to use the surrounding jungle for their daily sanitation needs. We helped teach Math and English to their children at the community school. It was hard to tell which was more tiring, the construction work or working with the children. It was incredible to watch the excited children play and learn with so much energy, and it was a great opportunity to be have been able to help a community that otherwise would not have been able to afford the new facilities. I realized that the monetary value of our contribution may not have been great, but the difference that it made to their daily lives was important.
After my time down south, I had a new perspective on travelling. It’s not the places you visit or the pictures you take, it’s the people you meet. As members of the Canadian Forces, we expect to go abroad on duty. To understand the peopleand the environment that surrounds us, we need to see the world through different lenses. This is what travelling gives us.
Travelling broadens the mind, and gives you the ability to view the world through different lenses; to understand, to interpret your surroundings.
From my brief experience in Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador, I know that learning from travel cannot be replicated in a classroom. You cannot notice the small details that make a community work from reading a book. You cannot understand why a family that spends less that 10$ per month would be happy, until you have seen their faces and they way they live, in person.
Travel gave me a chance to immerse myself in foreign cultures, and the expedition pushed me out of my comfort zone and developed me in ways like no other experience. In this era of complex modern conflicts, our ability to understand the environment around us will influence our decision making. The only way to we can learn to interpret alien environments is by being exposed to them. This is exactly the experience the RMC Expedition club promotes. With expeditions to the ends of the earth, the Expedition Club provides an incredible opportunity for Officer Cadets to push themselves and experience different cultures first hand. Traveling breaks down misconceptions, and broadens the mind to see the world through new lenses; this is what we need as future officers in the Canadian Forces, and this is the opportunity the RMC Expedition Club provides.