Developing Young Minds in the Developing World

By Wilderness Adventures December 11, 2013

Wilderness Ventures Leader Aaron Weaver uses the outdoors to teach leadership, peace and intercultural understanding in Macedonia.


As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia, former WV leader Aaron Weaver has helped develop and implement a summer-camp-style experience designed to teach social engagement, leadership skills and a love for the outdoors. The Young Men’s Leadership Project (YMLP) uses active, experiential programming to teach inclusive values, promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage students to become active role models in their home communities. As an experiential program, the YMLP follows a model of “authentic learning” – which is based on the idea that students learn best when they’re able to apply their lessons in a real-world setting.


The week-long camp experience helps students become more civically and socially engaged across the ethnic divides that are still such a part of day-to-day life in the region. As a partnership between Peace Corps and the local YMCA, Aaron sees the YMLP as an opportunity to apply his professional outdoor leadership experience to a new and challenging environment. “Last year at YMLP I utilized many of the skills and resources I learned and acquired while working for WV,” says Aaron,who, as the Programming Coordinator, is in charge of curriculum development, coordination of Macedonian and American teachers, and creation of staff training materials.


Aaron recognizes that engaging students in constructive and fun ways in an outdoor environment is a universally applicable formula for teaching important life skills. “Essentially, working with Macedonian kids is very similar to working with American kids,” says Aaron, “Many of them have never spent time in nature. Programs like YMLP and WV provide students with skills like leadership and teamwork, in an authentic learning environment and ultimately impact their lives in profound ways regardless of nationality or ethnicity.”


In addition to teaching inclusiveness and leadership, the YMLP teaches conservation by connecting kids with the outdoors. “We recognized that students had little or no experience with what Americans call backcountry camping,” says Aaron, “This in turn affected their view of nature. Pollution is a large problem here with illegal dumps dotting the country. Many people simply throw trash on the streets, in the rivers and in the woods. Because our students were spending more time on their computers than in the woods we realized that asking them to care for an abstract thing (nature) was, in some ways, impractical without first providing them with an experience.”


Last summer at Aaron’s request, WV sent a box of quote books to Macedonia for Aaron to use as part of the summer curriculum. “Last year, I brought my WV Quote Book with me to Macedonia and used it for group circles, asking students to read from it at lunch and dinner. It didn’t take long before kids and counselors from other groups were asking to borrow the book.”  A staple on WV trips since the early ’70s, the Wilderness Ventures Quote Book is a collection of inspirational wisdom and observations from poets, authors, conservationists and former WV Leaders, including WV Founder and Program Director Mike Cottingham.


To learn more about the Young Men’s Leadership Project, visit