These prospects were both thrilling and daunting for all of us. The majority of these students had only ventured outside of their townships a handful of times and had little experience with “the wild”. I myself did not know what to anticipate in terms of the role I would play as an intern and representative of EwB. I was also very excited to see a different side of South Africa, a country I had grown to love in the past couple of months.
We were greeted in Gugulethu by a four-person team from Educo Africa, Lali, Bulwela, Wendy and Gareth, the guides and leaders for this experience. This team was simply amazing; knowledgeable, energetic, fun and inspiring. The long bus ride was filled with singing, laughter, a bit of road sickness and lots of sharing of sweets and chocolate. The last leg of the trip was particularly exciting as we ventured up and up the mountains. The students were mesmerized as we passed through the clouds. Once at base camp we were given a fun tour by another Educo Africa staff member, Reuben. The learners gasped when he told us we could only have 60-second showers as water is an extremely limited resource up in the mountains. I myself was invited to a meeting with the team and was excited when they announced I would be working alongside them to run the activities and workshops.
This trip was truly a time of personal growth and bonding for the students and myself. We had to learn to function together as a group, sharing water, cleaning our cabins, making meals and doing all sorts of fun team-bonding activities. Over the course of the trip I saw the students become more and more effective team members and as a result their trust grew tremendously. At the end of each day we had closing time. Each person would express some highlights of the day and how he or she was doing at that moment, a ritual that fostered stability and confidence in the students.
The major highlight of the 6 days was camping and hiking in the wilderness. Preparing all of our gear was both exciting and educational, we learnt a great deal about safety procedures, cooking outside and setting up tents. We set out from base camp and did a solid hike before we arrived at a cliff where we were to go mountain climbing, a new activity for all of the students. A couple of learners were eager to try right away, but most were very nervous. The large majority of students faced their fears and mounted the cliff in their harnesses and helmets. They were all so excited and proud for trying, even those who did not make it to the top. After an afternoon of hiking we set up camp in a picturesque area of the mountain. We cooked a solid meal under the stars and headed into our tents for a calm but very cold nights sleep.
Before we knew it our time with Educo Africa at Groot Winterhoek was coming to an end. There were mixed feelings amongst the whole group. The students were happy to be soon seeing their families, for most of them this was the longest time they had spent away from home. On the other hand everyone was sad to leave this extremely beautiful place and fun experience behind. We closed off our time at base camp with a great activity in which we crafted beautiful dream catchers, journaled about our dreams and then shared as a group. Once back in Gugulethu many of the learners said they wanted to go right back to Groot Winterhoek, but at the same time were eager to see their friends and family and share their stories.
Within this group of students I observed a new sense of trust and cooperation that had been built during our trip with Educo Africa. During my last week as an intern for EwB I was happy to see many of the learners who had attended the camp at the afterschool Math and English program. They were very excited to see me and wanted to laugh and talk about our Educo Africa trip. This experience had a very positive impact on all of us and has left of with memories we will always cherish.
by Eleanor McGroarty