Senior Prefect George Berry reports on Colston's World Challenge expedition this summer
Colston's World Challenge team in Swaziland
In July, 10 students from Colston’s Sixth form, including myself, travelled to the tiny country of Swaziland in southern Africa to take part in a World Challenge Expedition. Throughout the year the team has been fundraising hard to make the trip possible. You may have come across us at the OCs Mixed Sports day playing Rugby 7s, or at our fundraising concert in the Chatterton Hall. We are exceptionally grateful to the Old Colstonian Society for the very generous donation it made towards the team total and also to all those who contributed individually. I hope to show you in this article that your donations had a hugely positive impact.
Swaziland is a tiny landlocked country bordering South Africa and Mozambique. It was a South African protectorate from 1894 and came under British rule in 1902 after the Second Boer War. In 1968 it became a fully independent Commonwealth state. Most notably, Swaziland is the last true monarchy in Africa and this is reflected in its tradition and culture.
Our two-week expedition was divided into three main stages. First was our Project phase – the volunteering aspect of the trip – aimed at giving us the opportunity to make a difference in a small community. Our project took place in the Shewula community in the north of the country, and saw us redecorate a local primary school.
Shewula was very disparate place – encompassing hundreds of small homesteads for miles around. The school we would be helping, Majembeni Primary school, is one of 3 in the area – and in itself provides for 859 children aged 6-15.
When we arrived there we met the Principal, Precious – who explained that a large proportion of these children came from a nearby orphanage. Swaziland has a historic problem with AIDS and HIV, which has only increased in recent years, and which has left thousands of children without parents.
Majembeni was tiny considering how many children are there each day. It consisted of 3 blocks of classrooms – all of which had fallen into disrepair – with dirty and sometimes broken windows, and walls whose paint was in desperate need of some love. Precious was keen for us to paint the outside of the school buildings, in the hope that it would make the place somewhere that the children were proud of.
Over the next few days we did this, in the absence of the students who would return on Monday. We set about first, washing and preparing the walls for paint – cleaning away what seemed like years’ worth of dust. When this was finished we painted the walls in the school colours of cream and blue.
At night we ate and camped at Shewula Mountain Camp – a tourism venture set up and run by members of the Shewula community. Here we enjoyed every night incredible views of the sunset over the Lobumbo mountains – and, one night a huge fire in the flatlands which we were told was dead sugar cane (the main agricultural staple of the country) crops being burned. On our second night at the camp we were treated to a traditional Swazi meal and a cultural dance by teenagers from the surrounding area.
On our penultimate day on the project it was my day as team leader – a role we rotated throughout the group on each day of our trip. Precious was keen for us to teach some lessons to the children and we thought this would be a fantastic thing to do – so I asked her the obvious questions. How many classes shall we go to? What would you like us to teach them? She responded with enthusiasm I will never forget “You must see them all, tomorrow is Bristol day – everything is up to you!”
That evening we set about planning lessons for all ages, and in the morning we arrived as teachers not painters. Majembeni was teaming with people, all curious and excited because we had appeared and their school buildings had changed. We divided into the groups we had arranged and taught every single class, from simply “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” with Grade 1 all the way to algebra, BODMAS and European geography in Grade 7.
After this, we were told that the school’s sports teams wanted to play us – and so we played netball in the school yard and football on the dirt pitch just outside – both in front of the entire school and all its staff. Strangely enough many of them were cheering for us! It was a great example of how sport can bridge gaps and bring people with vastly different lives together.
I left Shewula far more optimistic than I had thought I would be. I had met some of the most underprivileged people in the world and yet everyone we met was welcoming, grateful for what they had and, especially with the children, incredibly content with life. I also felt we had made a real difference – in ensuring that school was somewhere those children were proud to be – and in sharing some of our life experiences with them – I’m confident that many of them will not forget our visit any time soon.
We moved on to the second stage of the expedition – two days at Hlane Royal National Park. There are two game parks in Swaziland. Hlane is owned by King Mswati III and plays host to Lion, Elephant, White Rhino, Giraffe and a whole host of other species. “Hlane” means ‘Wilderness’ in siSwati and encompasses 22,000 hectares of Swazi lowlands.
During our brief stay we saw some incredible sights. My highlight was coming across a small group of lions and instead of taking the road leading away, our driver Sonny Boy took the one leading straight towards them! We ended up mere feet from a young male lion, and the carcass of an impala was visible behind him - totally surreal.
From Hlane we moved to our final phase – the trek. For this we journeyed to the south of the country to another mountainous area called the Ngwenpisi Gorge. The trek phase was the most gruelling of the expedition. Combining African heat with mountainous terrain made it a significant challenge for the team, but we overcame this each day and were rewarded by the spectacular scenery.
We camped wild the first night and enjoyed a sense of total isolation from the world, as well as seeing more stars than any of us had ever been able to see before. But it was our headquarters for the remainder of the trip that we will never forget. We stayed in the evenings at Rock Lodge in Ngwenpisi – a unique wooden structure built entirely into a rock face looking out over the valley. This place was truly simple and idyllic and provided the just rewards each evening for the hard day’s walking we had done.
Over the course of the expedition, the team learned some valuable skills and gained some amazing life experiences – as well as being able to volunteer our services to people who have very little. We learned a lot about a culture very different to our own and also a lot about ourselves that perhaps we wouldn’t have otherwise.
On behalf of the team, thank you again for helping to make this experience possible – we are tremendously grateful.
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