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Exchange students discover green peace

Three foreign exchange students at Lanesville High School experienced a part of American culture last week that went beyond the customary desire to learn English or see Disney World, New York City or the Grand Canyon.
The teenagers placed here by Jill Robertson of Depauw, the new CCI (Center for Cultural Interchange) Area Director for Harrison, Crawford, Floyd and Washington counties, bravely took on a three-day environmental project and enjoyed a bonafide camping experience at O’Bannon Woods State Park, inside Harrison-Crawford State Forest.
Since American families aren’t paid to host exchange students, as is the case in most other countries, CCI believes the students should get involved in various environmentally related projects that would enable them to ‘give back to the community’ in which they’ll be living this school year. To promote this idea further, earlier this year, CCI hooked up with Greenheart, an ‘organization which focuses on ecological consciousness.’ CCI provides funding to finance approved proposals submitted by the area representatives.
The three LHS students who participated in last week’s project are:
Benjamin (Benni) Kruger, 17, who’s from Colbitz, Germany. He’s hosted by Robert and Teresa Schickel.
Kaue (pronounced COW-ee) Maria, 17, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hosted by Richard and Wendy Kennedy.
Guilherme (nicknamed Gui, pronounced ghee) Hilkner, 15, Sao Paulo, hosted by Kim and Nick Melton.
After getting the project approved through CCI and Greenheart, Jill said, ‘It’s gonna be a lot of hard work, but we’re gonna have lots of fun, too.’
Last Monday morning, Jill and her husband, State Rep. Paul Robertson, took the kids camping at the forest and heard a ‘really interesting’ campsite talk by Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. Chief Gary Gilley. He showed them live marijuana plants and informed them about one of the fastest-growing dangers in rural America: the illegal production of methamphetamine, which often occurs in isolated rural areas.
Occasionally, innocent people come across discarded trash bags or plastic storage containers from a mobile ‘meth lab.’ The contents can be quite dangerous, if not lethal. Gilley cautioned them to never open suspicious containers. Believe it or not, Gilley said some of the more creative meth producers have resorted to making meth in boats on the Ohio River, which can be dumped into the water if they suspect the cops are coming.
Forewarned, the students and the Robertsons cleaned up trash and litter in the two sections of the Class A Campground, one of the most popular spots in the 22,000-acre state forest. With time left over before dinner, Paul suggested that the group visit the Horsemen’s Hideaway and do cleanup there. Campers and horsemen alike expressed interest and thanks when they learned that these young men were exchange students volunteering their time during their two-week break from school.
That night, the group indulged in a bonfire and traditional American weenie roast, complete with the ever-popular marshmallow s’mores. Benni had brought his new electric guitar and amplifier, and he filled the campground with Metallica-type music. Kaue and Gui are also guitar students, and each took their turn entertaining.
The next morning at the Nature Center, naturalist Jarrett Manek showed the kids exhibits of all the animals, birds, insects and snakes that live or used to live in the area. He led them on a tour of the pioneer homestead and hay press, gave them a history lesson about pioneer life, and answered lots of questions.
Assistant Property Manager Bob Sawtelle invited the group to his home on Blue River, where he loaned the kids kayaks (Paul and Jill took a canoe) for a three- or four-mile float trip to the Blue River Chapel. It was a wet trip: the students took an occasional dip. Paul and Jill convinced the boys that they themselves had to remain upright, at least until after lunch, since all the food was stored in their canoe.
Midway through the cruise, in beautiful autumn weather, the fivesome linked their crafts together and enjoyed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch. Wherever they found junk and trash, they removed it from the river.
Throughout the trip, Benni said repeatedly, ‘This is just so beautiful.’
They vowed to come back next spring, with the rest of Harrison County’s CCI exchange students, when the water will probably be higher.
That evening, Jill treated them to her version of ‘Boy Scout Stew,’ an easy-to-fix combination of sliced potatoes and carrots, onions, butter, salt and pepper, and a thin cover of hamburger patties. The aluminum foil is carefully folded into a packet and roasted over an open fire for half an hour. Robertson said they loved the stew and the homemade cookies she had brought from home. Gui and Kaue said that they don’t have cookies in Brazil, so they especially enjoyed the American treat.
Wednesday morning, everyone climbed aboard a 4WD truck and followed one of the major horse trails that loops above and along the Ohio River. This trail has breathtaking views and is one of the Robertson family’s favorites. But after every high water, Jill said, considerable junk washes up on shore and has to be removed. The students had the honors. They picked up enough bags full of bottles and debris to fill up Frank Laswell’s DNR truck bed. The students asked the Robertsons if they would get to ride horses, but Jill told them ‘not this trip.’ She promised them a ride later at the ‘Robertson stables’ at their home near Depauw.
The group left O’Bannon Woods late Wednesday afternoon tired and dirty, but not hungry. The students said they thought they were well on their way to gaining the 20 pounds that many foreign exchange students gain during their 10-month stay in America.
The students will each receive a diploma from Greenheart and CCI for completing this environmental project.