Around the world, NOLS students learn and lead in wilderness classrooms. In addition to the courses offered in the catalog, NOLS also provides similar training to organizations and companies. From NASA to Japanese outdoor educators,NOLS Professional Training regularly offers custom-built courses in risk management, team building, leadership and skills development to professionals worldwide. Welcome to the wilderness boardroom.
The newest site of this unique boardroom was the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. Thick with Dr. Seuss-like vegetation, this National Park and World Heritage Site is the largest mountain range in Africa and boasts the country’s third highest peak. Under the auspices of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), there has been a movement to meet international standards for risk management and rescue operations to support trips into this newly formed national park. Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), a community-based nonprofit mountain guide organization of local Bakonzotribesman, holds the only concession to guide within Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
Darran Wells, Program Coordinator for NOLS Professional Training, explains that the rangers want to be confident that risk is being well managed to continue RMS’ concession. Consequently, UWA has required all RMS lead guides who take clients on peak ascents to obtain NOLS-specific training in a variety of areas. Enter jungle right Bill Farmer, a British European Union consultant working as Technical Advisor with UWA in Kampala, who was tasked with strengthening the relationship between UWA and RMS.
“It was clear that one of the key ingredients to both improve the visitor experience and raise safety standards was the training of both UWA and RMS staff in basic skills,” Farmer explains. “With NOLS’ international reputation and involvement 10 years previous, they were the natural choice.”
The training program consisted of three phases: risk management consulting, Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and technical skills training. For the first phase, Wells visited Uganda in December to help develop and refine emergency medical and evacuation plans that the guides would utilize both during and after their training. Then in January, 30 guides (six from UWA and 24 from RMS) participated in a two-and-a-half day WFA course followed by 20 days mastering mountaineering skills, group management techniques and emergency medical evacuation scenarios.
Farmer reports on the guides’ positive experience. “They feel that they have learned so much about better climbing and safety techniques and have had their eyes opened with the Leave No Trace training.” In addition, they appreciated a newfound confidence from the medical training. As for the officials from UWA, “they have acquired a tremendous body of professional skills, but also have developed a close working relationship and respect for the RMS guides,” Farmer states.
Aside from acting as a catalyst for change in how UWA and RMS do business, the most significant aspect of this particular program is its international funding by five different aid organizations. The donor partners, including UWA, are the World Wildlife Fund, the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
“Not only did these five different international aid agencies fund it,” Wells says, “but the UWA, a branch of the Ugandan government, coordinated the funding and asked us to come in and provide the training.” And even as each organization is interested in its own valuable agendas such as environmental protection or risk management, they are all interested in seeing the local RMS succeed as well.
“We are very excited to get back to Africa and to be able to help RMS out. It may also open doors for us to work with these aid organizations in other parts of the world,” Wells says.
Farmer adds, “All of us have been very pleased with NOLS’ commitment to deliver us the protocols and training that we wanted. The NOLS name is certainly riding high here in Uganda.”