Soon after the group from Shea O’Connor Combined School arrived at Entabeni Environmental Education Centre in Hlatikulu, Boston, the Crowned Crane, wandered in to say hello.
Shea O’Connor has, for the second year, ‘adopted’ Boston by contributing towards her keep at the centre. While school mates have met Boston before, it was the first time for these 32 learners.
Sibo Dlamini, Entabeni activity leader, thanked the school for adopting her, saying “She will lead a great, healthy life now. Thank you for all you have done for the environment.” Welile Duda, Samkelo Sikhosana, Nicholas Nxumalo (principal) accepted the certificate from Nicky Willmers (Entabeni) on behalf of the school.
Welile commented “I always heard the others at school talking about Boston. Now I know her too.” Sandiso Ndlovu added “I think we must put Boston in the back of the taxi when we go home. She can live with us at school.”
The intention of the weekend, organised by Midlands Conservancies Forum and funded by N3TC and Entabeni, was to build a really strong team of environmental activists for this school who have participated in the WESSA Eco-Schools programme for the past 10 years.
Activities and games included solving puzzles,
Working together as a team,
All the while having a lot of fun and laughs and bonding as a group.
Zafika Yengo “The staff at Entabeni really love their jobs, they are patient and have so much knowledge. The games were brilliant and educational, we had so much fun.”
Meals were nourishing, vegetarian ones appropriate to the environmental ethos of the excursion. Everyone tucked in enthusiastically and came back for seconds.
Ever the comedian, Thembelani Sithole said “I have never eaten vegetarian for three days. I am still alive and strong. I was able to adapt.”
Boston is always keen for a stroll, so joined the group as they headed off towards the wetland to learn more about the Hlatikulu environment.
Boston never passes up an opportunity to dance with one of the boys.
There they discussed the importance of rivers and wetlands for humans and other species. Learners were particularly interested as they have a small wetland in the school grounds which they are working hard to restore and protect.
Afterwards, Boston lead everyone down to the Crane Sanctuary to learn all about the two other species of South African Cranes – Blue and Wattled.
Liisi Lehemets, Entabeni facilitator (recently arrived from Estonia) was most impressed “These kids are really smart and already know so much. They are actually interested in what we are teaching, which is amazing. Their questions are really good. I had so much fun.”
An Obstacle Course is an essential part of any team building experience as participants need to assist one another to overcome the various challenges. Boston and Welile checked out the obstacles.
The Entabeni facilitators pointed out that outdoor and adventure activities are inherently risky. However, the presence of risk creates meaning in the experience and facilitates learning by focussing the attention of the participant on the ‘here and now’, and helps them to develop an awareness of the abilities of their body and mind.
Sbonokhule Sithole laughed “This obstacle course got my brain boiling!”
Londeka Ndlovu loved the challenges of the obstacle course “It got my body working and I enjoyed the fresh air.”
Then in the afternoon, there was a classic debate: the Lifeboat Scenario – who would YOU choose to come along? Fiona McCrimmon, facilitator for the Midlands Meander Association Education Project who works with this school, was really impressed at the depth of understanding and robustness of the discussion.
Mncedisi Dlamini said “We have all learnt to communicate better this weekend, to get to know people’s “other sides”, and learn to respect our differences.
Hiking is a real delight at Entabeni. Water bottles, binoculars (donated by N3TC) and cameras were gathered for the walk.
Heading for the mountains,
Discussing rocks and tracks and scat along the way.
Discovering underground tunnels in dry river beds
Drinking water from mountain streams
Leaving only footprints and shadows
Taking plenty of photographs (thanks Sue Hopkins of Future Growth for the camera),
of the wildflowers
and wild animals
and the bushmen paintings, along the way.
Leader, Geoff Ntshangase, who has been an environmental activity leader at Entabeni for many years commented “These kids are wonderful, so respectful and asking lots of questions. I really appreciate that.”
Tafadzwa Bero “it was really interesting to experience things we have learnt about at school, like the fact that the temperature drops the higher you go.”
We felt we were on top of the world!
Phumelelo Madlala commented “This trip was so adventurous and educational all at once!” Vuyani Mtoto observed “People have definitely grown this weekend, discovered new talents and become leaders.”
Chill time before supper was taken up with soccer games, dancing and chatting to Boston. Watch a short clip of the spontaneous performance here. https://vimeo.com/101422150
Around the roaring campfire in the evening, toasting marshmallows, there was plenty of celebration of days well spent.
Phumelelo and Thembelani performed an impromptu drama in the firelight about the importance of protecting wetlands. “I am a farmer and happy to plant my crops in the wetland so I don’t have to worry about watering them.” boasted Thembelani. Phumelelo retorted “Do you have any idea about the damage you are causing? What about the other species who rely on this wetland, and the people living downstream?” Fabulous!
The last morning was spent consolidating the learning, participating in the Entabeni Olympics and talking about Taking Environmental Action.
Everyone had an opportunity to talk about the weekend’s experiences, giving postive and negative feedback. Ayanda Zuma said “I have seen things with my own eyes and learnt a lot. I would suggest installing a solar geyser to improve the hot water situation.”
Brian Mlotshwa wrote a rap poem to mark the occasion:
It is said that the first cut is the deepest
and the first taste is the sweetest
I say the first stay is the nicest.
I could see people smiling and learning while hiking
My lifestyle, my perspective on things is changing
It is Nikki and others, that I am thanking.
Unbelievable that a world can be changed by something so tiny
A word, an action, a fight
From someone whose actions are tight
Mind-set so straight, smile so bright
Makes me want to say – you are so right.
Before leaving, everyone had an opportunity to sit quietly for 30 minutes to reflect on the weekend. “It was great to escape from phones, TV and polluted air for a while.”
Sli Mhlanzi “This has been an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.” Lungelo Zondi added “It was a wonderful experience that I hope we will repeat.” Wanda Cebekhulu expressed the wish to visit again this year and is determined to do some fundraising back at school to make it happen.
Principal of Shea O’Connor, Nicholas Nxumalo, was very impressed. “The learners have grown and shown real maturity. This programme was accessible and relevant, with very professional facilitators. We are proud to be associated with Entabeni and Boston. We are not only visitors; we are part of the Entabeni family now.
Nicky Willmers concluded “You have made our jobs as facilitators so much easier. We have learnt from you and appreciate your enthusiasiasm.” Thank you to Entabeni for their generous contribution to making this trip possible and to N3TC for funding the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme.