Edvan Loh of Kool Adventure Camp takes education to higher ground
By Fiona Patricia S. Escandor
ADVENTURE education is often mistakenly perceived as just another recreational stint, some deeming its main purpose of learning just as an add-on. On the contrary, it ought to be an effective combination of the two, with participants finishing the trail bearing lessons and fun memories of their journey.
It is a type of learning that has already gained momentum in other countries, and in the Philippines, a pioneer in this field is the Kool Adventure Camp of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. Not only is it the only institution with a facility solely dedicated to adventure education, KAC also adheres to adventure education’s core principles. Simply put, its ropes courses and camping activities signify so much more.
Behind KAC is camp director Edvan Loh, an adventure education advocate and certified professional who has been with the industry for 15 years, handling programs for both students and professionals. A brilliant man with a passion for outdoor activities and experiential learning, he possesses appreciation for how experiences outside the four walls of a classroom stimulate greater understanding of one’s self and surroundings.
Edvan was first exposed to adventure education as a participant himself, when he was only 15 years old back in his home country Singapore. “I had my first taste of ropes courses, sailing, trekking, kayaking, cooking and staying in the outdoors,” he said. “I went home after those five days, feeling like I could do whatever I set my mind to. It was a deeply profound experience that shaped my self-confidence, being independent and self driven, and my love for being close to nature.”
He joined that same organization, Outward Bound, shortly after his stint in the military and finishing university. Hardly expecting back then that his first job would become his life-long career, he left the organization 15 years later as deputy director. He has since been camp director for KAC, and has been residing in Cebu for the last three years.
KAC’s sprawling facility in Balamban was launched in 2014 — and Edvan has been instrumental in its development since day one, following through construction, and now with its day-to-day operations. After putting the systems in place, he said his role these days mainly involves keeping the camp ahead of the curve, identifying aspects that will enable them to provide innovative and relevant programs to participants.
“Quality is an arduous undertaking that if left alone will, like an unused muscle, atrophy,” he said. “The business environment changes constantly. Client needs evolve. Operations have to adapt. I prompt, prod and cajole my team to challenge their assumptions, to make the best decisions that will bring us nearer to our desired performance level. As the leader, I have to look ahead.”
Making a difference
A typical day has him roving the camp, checking its various ropes and challenge courses, monitoring programs, or coaching his staff of facilitators. It is not the typical eight-to-five routine, a job that requires both mental and physical prowess. When the day is done he finds satisfaction in being able to make a difference in people’s lives.
“I believe there is no greater fulfillment and privilege than to be involved in developing lives,” Edvan said. “When I was an instructor, I could not wait for Monday to come so I can lead a new group on their adventure. Now, my satisfaction is in seeing my staff grow and develop to a new level.”
An ardent adventurer himself, he added, “Of course, working in this industry also means we get to take part in a lot of really cool stuff like kayaking, mountain trekking, rock climbing, abseiling, sailing, camping under the stars — and we get paid to do it.”
Outside of work, Edvan has spent a considerable amount of his free time, traveling. “A travel experience for me has to involve some kind of physical and mental challenge, be it a mountain, a trail, or a worthy cause. And it has to include an encounter with nature and the outdoors,” he said.
Between 2009 and 2010, he and his wife went on a world expedition, their biggest adventure trip yet that started with walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, trekking bear country in Alaska, diving in Seychelles on a marine conservation project, and ending it with a three-week climb to the Himalayan peak in Nepal, and then a cultural tour in Japan.
In his current post in the Philippines, Edvan said he has only visited a handful of islands, and admits he has not traveled around the country as much as he would have liked, since he is mainly concentrated on his work.
And his weekends, he said, are spent with his family, reading to his energetic four-year-old and taking him out for walks, and enjoying the greenery and rolling terrain of their second home in the Balamban countryside.
While his love for the outdoors has certainly been a factor, Edvan shared that his passion for his craft goes beyond that. He said, “What inspires me, even until today, is knowing how an adventure experience can help you discover and realize your potential, to overcome self-imposed limits, to unleash your strengths and possibilities — and to be part of such a process is truly amazing.”
Photos: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome
Grooming: Carlo Damolo and Jerwin Bastatas
Locale: Kool Adventure Camp