2002 - dancing to the latino beat
In 2002, music in South America had hit an all time low. There seemed to be a trend of endless latino dance tunes making sexual references to different food groups, so Quest teams were dancing the days and nights away to tracks such as "Mayonesa", "Chocolate" and even "Ketchup!" - to be honest though, they were quite catchy...
While teams in Peru were wasting their time on the dance floor (incredible how they managed to convince us that dressing up as the cast of "Grease" is helping impoverished communities!), Quest Africa had expanded its project work from just Swaziland to also encompass Tanzania, and the foundations were built for a nursery school in the village of Tanga.
At the same time in Bolivia, Jonjon was contacted by a wild animal refuge which was bursting at the seams and looking to find a way to expand its capacity. Fortunately, by this stage, Jonjon knew when and how to catch boss Michael on a good day, and pitched the idea to him when he knew he had the best chance of a positive response (basically on any day except a Monday). The pitch worked and the funds were set aside, and in September 2002 Quest (and Rainforest Concern) bought the first 200 hectares of an 800 hectare jungle reserve in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon. The land belongs to the local foundation Inti Wara Yassi, but they very kindly gave the land the name "Questonia"! In all seriousness though, this reserve was to be the beginning of a great deal of work, building enclosures, veterinary clinics trails and an entire park infrastructure, we knew our teams would be up to it.
Back in the UK, after years of working from 9am to 11pm because of having to accommodate the time difference between England and South America, international events forced a change to this. The FIFA World Cup - in Japan and Korea dammit - meant that, if people wanted to see all of the games and get to work on time, they had to come to work at 7am and watch the games in the office. Thank goodness for Ronaldinho cutting England's chances short, the better team won and we could finally get some sleep.
Also in 2002, the UK fund raising efforts of ex-Quest students were growing in momentum. The annual fundraiser, which had started as a meeting in the park, had become a full blown black tie central London bash, with casinos, auctions and disturbingly accurate caricaturists. This year's event, held at the Royal Commonwealth Club on Embankment, hosted a fantastic 15 piece band led by one of our leaders, Robin Vincent-Smith. Lots of fun was had, lots of money was raised but we had to feel sorry for the happy couple which were having their wedding reception at the same venue the following day...
One final point to mention about this year. Quest Overseas is and always will be gap year specialists. However, the one exception to this was conceived in October 2002 - the creation of the "Quest Parents' Expeditions". Three weeks exploring the best of South America while also seeing the hard work their children had done on their projects, but with the difference that at the end of each day, we would come home to luxury hotel accommodation. Our first group - seven people which named themselves the "Quest Virgin Parents" - soon showed us that there was no need to cut out the hard treks or the big nights of partying for the older generation, we stood corrected!
Next: 2003 - questonia!