• Diana


Ok. Time for a confession. I'm a bit of a wimp. But only when it comes to slugs and worms and creepy crawlies and unpredictable wildlife like... um... caterpillars, moths and daddy long legs.

You see, I grew up in a back-to-basics Eastern European village where my friends were mostly boys a few years older than me. We got on fine for the best part but they quickly learned that if ever they needed "lad time," the best way to get rid of me quick was by tormenting little Diana with dangling earthworms and furry caterpillars or whatever other innocent creatures were to hand. Like most unfavourable childhood experiences- this one has stayed with me right through my adult years (and made worse by an under-the-stars camping trip in secondary school where I woke up covered in earthworms, followed by a fear factor challenge a few years later where I had to eat bugs in a competition against my RTE co-presenters).

Admittedly, this was my biggest worry when I took on Plan Ireland's Women Go Wild Survival Challenge; the flashbacks too much to handle. However, I've always believed in challenging myself in every aspect and I think it's rather healthy to "feel the fear and do it anyway" as often as possible. Besides, the 24 hour trek was for a brilliant cause, allowing for an opportunity to learn and discover new things, meet new people, test your own limits and experience something a little out of the ordinary.

The purpose behind the camping weekend was to highlight Plan's work in the aftermath of a natural disaster and in areas of conflict around the world with extra emphasis on the importance of access to food, shelter and water; something Plan has been delivering for over 80 years in response to international emergencies such as the Nepal earthquake where they built shelter for those who lost their homes in the disaster. Although our prospective challenge was a far cry from a humanitarian crisis, it would allow us to understand the importance of these essentials for survival.

As well as this, the trip was designed to highlight Plans's Because I Am a Girl campaign- a global movement that focuses on girls' rights and gender equality, with a strong emphasis on education. Globally there are over 65 million girls out of school with one young girl forced to marry every two seconds. But did you know that girls with secondary school education are 6 times less likely to marry as children? Or that for every extra year a girl stays in school her income can be increased by 10-20%?

Since it was founded in 1937, Plan has been working tirelessly to protect children's rights, with particular focus on education for girls and young women. The organisation works hard to identify the barriers to gender equality- child marriage, forced labour, FGM, sexual violence and more- and focuses all their energy on breaking them.

With 2018 dubbed the year of the woman, it's a good time to be female. More than ever we're standing up for our rights and fighting for what we believe in and slowly but surely, the world is taking notice. Our Women Go Wild Survival Challenge couldn't have come at a better time as nine women from all walks of life came together in Laragh, Co. Wicklow to show the mountains - and our guides Bradley and Tallis- what we were made of.

We embarked on a trek like no other, ready to challenge ourselves. Our aim was to survive the wild in a journey of discovery and exploration and with varying levels of fitness we had just each other for moral support.

Bradley and Tallis were excellent guides teaching us important survival skills from navigating using maps to looking to the sun and working with a compass. We learned about the importance of fuelling our bodies correctly, rationing water, essential first aid basics and what to do in case of an emergency; we started fires, collected natural materials from the forest to make bedding, took turns tending to the fire and cooking our dinners, learned about knots and tarps and how to weather proof our man-made shelters.

Every so often Tallis and Bradley would make a statement that really hit home about how difficult this experience would be in a real emergency situation. At one point during our dinner prep, we lost 4 litres of water when a pot spilled over. Our guides pointed out how crucial a loss that would have been in a real world scenario where water is limited and the next supply uncertain. A human can survive a few days without food- but water is the source of life and without it we wouldn't be getting far.

As night fell, I began to feel a little uncomfortable at the prospect of sleeping outdoors in the middle of nowhere and imagined how scary it might be for a young girl living in the aftermath of a landslide or tsunami , having lost her home and potentially torn away from her family. We had the comfort of knowing we would be back home within hours of the sun rising the next morning but what about the young mother who has been left displaced without her home and loved ones, uncertain if she would ever see them again?

The next morning, we trekked back to Laragh, bleary eyes and tired from lack of sleep. I thought of the 24 hours we had endured in relative luxury- we had sleeping bags and warm clothes, food and water rations, hot chocolate- we even made s'mores! We had a level of comfort and certainty throughout our journey and it really highlighted how uneasy and scary it would be for a prolonged period of time. We could go home to warm showers and cosy houses, an endless supply of food and water and family and friends to share our experiences with before resting up and getting back to our normal lives on Monday.

I thought of the 43,000 girls who would have been forced into a marriage in the 24 hours we camped and I felt so grateful and proud to have been part of something that helped raise funds that would go straight into helping young women better their lives and in turn, help secure them a future they could never have imagined.

Plan's Women Go Wild Survival Challenge was an incredibly eye opening experience - if you'd like to get involved check out www.plan.ie and sign up for the challenge too, there's one taking place on the 23rd June!

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