A Brixton teenager received a masterclass in wilderness craft from survival expert Ray Mears during a two-day course on the East Sussex downs last week.
Arafat Kajjumdi, 17, is a member of the Harlequins Rugby HITZ programme designed to get wayward teens back into education using sport.
He joined up with programme members from five other Aviva Premiership Rugby sides on Tuesday for the crash course in shelter building, making fire and plant identification, and admitted the day would live long in his memory.
“The fact HITZ can offer me these experiences is really fantastic — I wish everyone would have the same opportunities because it is really helpful and has changed my life,” said Arafat.
“It was recommended HITZ by a friend. I didn’t have any qualifications so I joined to get some.
“I have been a part of it for nearly a year and my life has really changed for the better.
“I’ve got some coaching qualifications now and have functional skills, it has been really helpful — this September I will be looking to go and study construction at college.
“I had never been out in the forest so it is my first time, I loved the experience and it was great to see Ray making the fire.”
HITZ is a Premiership Rugby scheme run by each of the 12 teams in their local communities, using rugby and other sports to bring disaffected 16 to 19-year-olds back into education and give them a chance in life.
Land Rover are a key partner of the scheme and laid on the event with their ambassador Mears, who showed the teens how to make fire by rubbing wood together, as well as constructing an overnight shelter and learning what can and cannot be used in the woods.
“We have generations of young adults who have spent most of their childhood playing imaginary games on computers and they haven’t touched nature in the same way — for whatever reason, I don’t attribute blame, it is just circumstances and a new lifestyle,” said television star Mears.
“I am old school though, we do everything for real, it is good for the HITZ participants to see what can be done, to select a piece of wood, to see that you can make fire, and that it’s all real.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to go outside and make your own adventures.
“We have shown them what to do here but we hope that they will now go on and make their own discoveries for themselves and that is the magical bit.”
Helen Clayton, of Premiership Rugby, is the HITZ project manager and was on hand to guide the participants through their woodland adventure and help them implement the qualities of teamwork, resilience and self-confidence already developed on the programme.
“When Ray was talking they were so engaged because it was something they had never seen, never done before,” she said.
“Most of them probably don’t have the opportunity to walk through the woods, or play like we did, so it is a real eye opener and it shows them that there is so much more out there and that you have to be aware of things.
“These are the opportunities that HITZ gives these people to develop skills that are important for life in general.”
Jonathan Garrett, corporate and social responsibility director at Jaguar Land Rover, said the aim of the event, and their support of the HITZ programme as a whole, is to enable a positive change in the lives of young people.
“You hear about stories in other industries where people are given a chance and away they go, that is what we are hoping this project will do too,” he said.
“This is not just about a partnership, adding money in, it is about using the resources we have as Jaguar Land Rover, such as having Ray Mears at a wonderful event like this.
“The values of survival and pushing yourself, which Ray talked about to the participants, is something that really benefits them and helps them to develop.”
Land Rover is a partner of HITZ, the sport for change programme and with the help of Land Rover ambassador and explorer Ray Mears, was providing HITZ participants with a unique outdoor experience as reward for their progress on the HITZ programme. @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal