June 15th entailed a very early start to the day for thirteen excited Westerfordians accompanied by Mr Anderson, Ms Rycroft and Ms Hendrickz as we embarked on an unforgettable trip up the East Coast of South Africa-the destination being to join the Axium team in Zithulele for a week of tutoring and learning at their Ekukhuleni Winter School boot camp. Axium is an inspiring organisation founded by Old Westerfordian, Craig Paxton, and his wife, Michelle, whose vision is for every rural student to be able to leave school with “purpose, agency and options” and we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to help their cause.
We arrived, after our two day road trip, at Wild Lubanzi- a charming hand built backpackers situated almost right on Lubanzi beach “where the sea and the sky meet”. Monday morning proved to be the politest of early risings as the Westerford team headed off for a friendly Ultimate Frisbee game on the beach with some of the Axium teachers, followed by a walk through rolling green aloe spotted hills to the picturesque Hole in the Wall. A lovely lunch on the other side of the Mpako River was had, but upon return we were greeted by an unplanned-for high tide, which required some thrilling swimming-with-bags-above-heads (although some definitely succumbed to the water and took the dive instead…) A great beginning to a very full week.
The next morning saw the start of our week’s routine. Homemade breakfast granola and steaming fresh bread eaten as the sun rose over the sea followed by a forty-five minute walk to our pickup point- in order to truly experience the transport struggles faced all over rural South Africa for ourselves. We were then driven to Dudumayo Senior Secondary School, where some ice-breakers, soccer and netball was played with the pupils before the school work actually began.
Us Westerfordians divided up between the English and Maths classes where we formed part of the grade ten and eleven lessons by either working one-on-one with pupils: helping with graph functions in the Maths class, or being a part of a table of six in the English class and engaging with the pupils as they studied the history and importance of the recently commemorated Youth Day and the ins and outs of English grammar. A definite highlight for us was Computer Sciences, where we were able to help the pupils grapple with laptops, the majority of whom were using them for the first time: creating Gmail accounts and Word documents and realising that the use and availability of computers is something that we really take for granted. It felt quite special to sit in a room full of future doctors, nurses and teachers as they practiced applying for universities and surreal to think that this is something many of us have done or will be doing soon too… Numerous emails were sent between Westerfordians and Ekukhuleni pupils and many new friendships were forged over the four days that we spent at the school; each day involving similar interactions, sandwiches, opportunities to practice some isiXhosa and competitive games of thirty seconds.
In the afternoons, once school was finished, the trip back often involved stocking up at Ncwanguba(“Wild Coast Makro”) for supplies and treats, and snacking on freshly made amagwinya (sweet fried bread). Throughout the week, while the rest of us spent time at the school, three different Westerford pupils were very privileged to be able to do some job shadowing at the nearby Zithulele hospital each day, around which clinical director and OW, Dr Ben Gaunt, had given us a guided tour. It was very eye-opening to be introduced to the inner workings of a rural hospital and meet many incredibly inspirational and optimistic doctors and therapists, all of whom have to creatively battle with the lack of governmental funding at the hospital on a daily basis. Westerfordians interested in healthcare were able to witness medical magic in the form of cast and splint making, ultrasounds and even a caesarian section!
From planting trees to playing monopoly (“with an Axium twist”), the week was filled with an incredible amount of learning and a definite grown appreciation for our beautiful country and all its people. We shared so many paths with roaming Nguni cattle and goats that it felt normal, and every person we passed greeted us like an old friend. It’s not very often that one gets to have such amazing experiences like these: from the passion of the Axium pupils and teachers to the tasty meals, perfect weather, gorgeous sunsets and strawberry moons at Wild Lubanzi it is definitely a journey we will all cherish for years to come.
We are also very grateful to everyone in the Westerford community for all the contributions that were made: whether it was calculators, stationary, money or knitted blankets: everything was greatly appreciated by the recipients! Also, a big thank you to the teachers that so faithfully drove us all the way and safely back to wintery Cape Town.
-Alex Rendall, grade 11