Homeschoolers brave elements for 40-Hour challenge

Jack Turner hugging a tree for the World Vision 40-Hour challenge. Photo: Supplied.

Four Bay of Plenty teenagers are feeling immense pride after pushing their physical limits during a fundraising weekend.

As the shortest days of the year cast early darkness over the world, the four resilient homeschoolers embarked on a unique survival challenge.

For the World Vision 40-Hour Challenge, Malachi Steel , 13, Jack Turner, 13, Harry Turner, 14, and Daisy Cooper, 14, designed an adventure that took the “Regreen Our Future” theme to the next level.

"We split into two teams," says Malachi.

"Jack and I, dubbed the “Tree Huggers,” aimed to raise awareness of deforestation by hugging a tree for 40 hours, while Daisy and Harry set out to experience life after a major environmental event, surviving in the wild with only a basic kit."

Daisy Cooper and Harry Turner Survival Team. Photo: Supplied.

Their social impact project was overseen by Kylie DellaBarca Steel, a parent and teacher who has firsthand experience with the devastating impact of cyclones in the Pacific, having survived Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu in 2015 and helped rebuild communities on Tanna Island.

"We set up in Paengaroa’s Redwood Valley Farm, where the teams faced cold, hunger, boredom, and, on the final night, torrential rain," says Kylie.

Here’s how their 40 hours unfolded:

At the end of a loud countdown from the support team, Malachi and Jack began their long embrace with two tī kōuka (cabbage) trees.

Meanwhile, Daisy and Harry, with only two hours of daylight left from their 3pm start, rushed to build their shelters and start a fire.

Daisy quickly rigged a simple A-frame tent with a tarpaulin over a rope strung between two trees. Harry, having forgotten his rope, ingeniously used a kawakawa plant to secure his tarpaulin in an inverted triangle, providing a view of the stars.

"Unfortunately, our first attempt at lighting a fire failed, and we went hungry on the first night," says Daisy.

Meanwhile the Tree Huggers enjoyed hot spaghetti bolognese and toasted marshmallows delivered by their support team.

Malachi Steel and Jack Turner hugging trees. Photo: Supplied.

Kylie says the dawn of the second day found both teams stiff and tired, but optimistic.

"Until they received a weather report predicting heavy rain for the night," says Kylie.

She says with only flint, steel, damp leaves and wood, the survival team struggled to start a fire, finally succeeding on their third attempt.

"However, their meal of rice and pumpkin was unappealing."

The Tree Huggers, in contrast, had a variety of treats to sustain them.

"Malachi, usually active, had an epiphany about animals in captivity, while Jack concluded that life as a tree would be monotonous," says Kylie.

The first night’s difficulties included rats, wetas and cold, but the second night brought persistent heavy rain.

"Harry spent most of the day building a bamboo teepee and covering it with leaves, using tī kōuka leaves to seal his tarpaulin."

Kylie says as the rain came early, everyone scurried for shelter.

"The Tree Huggers zipped up the sides of their E-Z Up shelter but were concerned about water trickling down the tree trunks.

"Daisy closed her blue tarp and snuggled into her sleeping bag, while Harry burrowed into his makeshift shelter.

"The rain continued all night, and we wondered if they could last the final 11 hours," says Kylie.

Malachi Steel interviewed for documentary.  Photo: Supplied.

Finally, 7am arrived, and the challengers compared notes on their night.

"Malachi, having slept on the ground hugging a tree, ended up in a puddle, while Harry, in his leaf-covered teepee, was warm, snug, and dry," says Kylie.

"All four teenagers are feeling immense pride in their achievement, discovering new depths of resolve and resilience."

"We hope people will celebrate and support our fundraising efforts by donating on our World Vision page, World Vision Fundraising Page," says Malachi.

As recent third-place winners of the global International Youth Silent Film Festival, the Red Barn team filmed their 40-hour “Regreen Our Future” experience and now plan to produce a documentary about it for New Zealand’s Day One Film Challenge, sharing their hopes for a better future.


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