words | Elena Scialtiel
Candyfloss girl Chantal Hosken is about to get in a sticky situation this October, when she travels to the Peruvian rainforest to bring hope to the natives spreading the universal love that ties mankind in practical ways such as access to fresh water, healthcare and education.
This is Chantal’s first ‘expedition’ and she has been preparing for it for almost one year, since her application to non-profit organisation ‘Blessed to be a Blessing’ was accepted. “I’ve always longed for travels and adventures and this trip will give me the opportunity to do good as well as explore the world. I know that a fortnight isn’t long enough to change anyone’s life but my own, but it can be a start. There will be challenges, yet my team wants to build a relationship with the hosting communities and show them God’s love in the most practical way.”
She makes clear how the purpose of this exercise isn’t ‘missionary’ in the Ancien Régime sense of the term, still God will be ever present in her thoughts, while drawing strength from prayer and the support of her parishioners back home. “Indeed, we aren’t invading their lifestyle to shove God down their throats, so to speak,” Chantal says, “but we will explain how our faith is what drives us. It will be a taxing time for me, and I confide in God for inspiring me to overcome my fears and doubts, as He has done before in my life.”
Chantal, her two British and one Irish companions are meeting and flying from Heathrow on 14th October, to Bogota first, and subsequently hopping around Latin America to Lima next and eventually bound to the ‘Imperial City’ of Cuzco. Alas, no time for sightseeing around the fellow UNESCO World Heritage Site, as their guides will be waiting to escort them in the thick of the wilderness, mountains high and rivers low, to meet the tribes whom they will assist in channelling fresh water from a well. They are expected to communicate in Spanish, but a Quechua translator is tagging along just in case.
Because of their landing in Peru right after the end of hurricane season, they anticipate to carry out repairs to what Chantal describes as ‘tribal banana leaf shelters’, and of course to participate both manually and economically in larger architectural and farming projects. Chantal is tasked with the most rewarding and most responsibility-laden ‘ministry’: entertaining and educating the children. To prepare for this, she has been collecting donations of arts and crafts materials and educational books. “After this interview for example,” she chirps, “I am fetching some balloons and paint from a local shop that is kindly sponsoring me.” And there they go in her backpack the acrylic colours for face and finger-painting sessions… never fear: in case they run out, surely the jungle will be prodigal of mud, clay, berry juice, sap and chlorophyll for every shade of earth tones in its most literal sense!
Away from civilisation for two weeks, without water, electricity and definitely no internet connection, Chantal won’t be able to speak or see her little boy: “I know I am gonna miss him like crazy,” she admits, “because I am taking two weeks off my life to make one of my dreams come true and help the less fortunate as much as I can.”
During the preparatory weekends in the UK, Chantal immediately realised how privileged she has been with the readily available commodities our society affords, after taking them for granted all her life. “We won’t have tents, and definitely no indoor plumbing, so our showering and laundering will happen only when we find rivers or waterfalls, where we will also replenish our flasks of drinking water, filtered through the steriliser, that we have to ration wisely.” And she goes on telling how she came across ‘leaf shampoo’, a sort of lyophilised soap that is virtually weightless in the backpack and is gently turned into lather by water, without polluting the delicate balance of the forest environment.
“My petty dislike is the bugs, and I am readying myself for plenty of them, since we are sleeping under the stars.” She had several vaccinations in the build-up to the trip, furthermore one team member has medical training, with antidotes to snake or spider poison, and crisis first-aid kit packed to counteract permanent consequences of hiking accidents or sudden illnesses, in order to stabilise the patient before they are shipped back to civilisation within the twenty-four hour critical period. There’s the Zika virus scare looming too, but Chantal is not intimidated by worst case scenarios and she trusts her bug spray and citronella ‘bugracelets’ alongside her faith are enough to protect her.
Day-to-day foraging is still sketchy to 08Chantal who has been training to improve her fitness and simplifying her diet to accustom her metabolism to basic nourishment – unsure whether they will be ‘hunting and gathering’ or living out of energy bars and powdered drinks, of one thing Chantal is certain: “We will be fed of course, but not overfed, as we must save as much as we can for our hosts.”
She is also in charge of documenting the expedition with photographs and videos: “I don’t know how much of tribal life we will be allowed broadcasting, but I will put together a naturalistic documentary upon my return, portraying the exotic species of plants and animals we find along the way.” And here she is faced again with the hi-tech dilemma of civilisation: how to film virtually every day for two weeks in an electricity-deprived location? “I am stocking on batteries for my phone, camera and waterproof camera, as well as memory cards,” she explains. “I am also experimenting with a solar-powered camera battery, which will solve many problems if it works efficiently.”
Although she is adamant that the best support she can wish for is prayer, Chantal and her team have been tirelessly fundraising in the build-up to this life-changing trip, as she needs at least £3000 to cover her expenses (flights, vaccines, equipment, props), while any extra donations will be retained and administered by the locals to complete their projects and stock up on their medical supplies with the final aim of being enabled to break the cycle of poverty.
Visit www.btbab.org for more information.