Working hand in hand

How do you summarise the time we’ve spent in South Africa? How can you yet know the impact that the visit has had on not only the wonderful people we have had the pleasure of working with over the last 10 days, but also on ourselves? I think the team have done an exceptional job at highlighting the emotion and demands on a day to day basis through their daily blogs. However, it’s now my job to attempt to summarise the immense work that 14 students from Leeds, UK along with 4 students from Eshowe, South Africa have just undertaken, with the support of some good friends.

I feel that this final blog is an opportunity to offer thanks to some remarkable people who have helped make the visit as spectacular as it was.

Firstly, our hosts at Sugar Hill Manor, Graham, his wife Nat and the rest of the staff have been superb. A passionate friend of The Bambisanani Partnership since day one, Graham and his team couldn’t have made us feel more at home. They answered every need we had and also provided us with some once in a life time experiences, discussed on previous blogs. Graham and Nat also made the trip to join us on our festival day at Mnyakanya High School. They captured the remarkable work on camera, showing great pleasure in witnessing over a hundred students from different continents all working together.

Rennie, our driver, made his final drive with the team, delivering us safely to King Shaka International. A key member of the team, Rennie imparted knowledge upon us at every opportunity, not to mention ensuring our safety and efficiency. From day 1, Rennie truly understood the value of what the partnership is continuously striving to achieve. I’d like to thank Rennie for his patience, his enthusiasm and his support.

As Miss Wood has already highlighted, our final day was spent hosted by the Govender family. Logan, Rajes and Mahesh continue to be a kind, loving and invaluable part of the team. I know that the love their family shows, to every member of St Mary’s that passes through their door, is a true representation of what the partnership has become – family.

I am pleased to be writing this blog entry in the knowledge that all staff and students are back in the comfort of their own home. I hope that the blog has been a fascinating insight to you of the day-to-day demands of being a part of such inspirational work. Photos and videos will ensure that this incredible visit is documented in some lasting form, but the memories that each of the individuals involved will have, are surely something that can never truly be recreated.

My second visit to South Africa, as part of The Bambisanani visit, added 18 more names to the long list of inspirational people who have made a real difference to the lives of others. Louis, Tom, Harmonia, Charlotte, Rachel, Lydia, Stevie, Ciaran, Ellie, Adam, Lucy, Ben, Will, Izzy, Sinabo, Kwanele, Aphiwe & Nkazi – you were all brilliant, and have been an absolute pleasure to work with in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I hope you continue to be incredible role models and look back on the work you have done with pride.

Finally, Mrs Chattoe and Miss Wood. What a wonderful team. You are both truly inspirational people. The students look to you with utmost respect and I know that the passion and love you show towards the learners and the partnership has certainly been passed down to all of the leaders that have come in to contact with you. Thank you for making my second visit to South Africa another success and being a part of memories that will stay with me forever.

Long may this wonderful work in South Africa continue, and may it sustain the passion it has shown for improving the lives of other over the last 13 years.

Mr Dobson

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Day 9: Time to say goodbye

Another early start for the Bambisanani team after what has been a memorable week.

Everyone took advantage of another fabulous breakfast spread before saying their farewells to Graham, Nat and the ladies of Sugar Hill House. Their kindness and support throughout the week has been greatly appreciated and the dinners provided were excellent (think of feeding time at the zoo when 14 hungry teenagers are given a buffet!).

After a short journey down to Durban, we were met by Logan, another great ambassador of the Bambisanani project. Here we were given a tour of the city, which included a walk along the sea front, taking in some sea air before the final journey home. Our visit came to an end with lunch at the house of Logan and Rajes. Again, the buffet spread of chicken byriani, salads and trifle went down a treat with everyone. So, thank you.

A final goodbye to Logan and Rennie our bus driver, who has been fantastic throughout the week, brought our visit to an end (aside the journey home).

It’s been an emotional journey for everyone involved and I’m sure the realisation of what the students have experienced over the last week or so won’t sink in for a while yet, and when it does it will be memories that last a lifetime. It’s been a pleasure to experience the visit with them.

Over and out. Miss Wood.

Day 8: New friends

Another early morning for everyone today, waking at 6:30 and out of the door for 8am. We drove directly to Eshowe High School for a guided tour around the grounds from our fellow Bambisanani Leaders: Sinabo, Kwanele, Aphiwe, Nkazi. We viewed the classrooms, the sport facilities and the music room where we were greeted by a fantastic marimba band who played us a few pieces. After an emotional goodbye to our new friends, we headed towards Zulufadder.

When we arrived at the day centre for orphaned children, we were loudly greeted by all of the children running up to the fence waving and singing to us. Emotions began to run high at this point, as everyone had been anticipating this moment all week. The gates opened. Smiling faces ran towards us and immediately hugged us. When we were able to get into the main play area, everyone sat down and enjoyed a viewing of Mr. Bean on Holiday. It was nice to see last years donation from the charity of DVDs, DVD Player and TV are coming in handy on ‘cold’ days like today. It wasn’t long before we were outside, singing and dancing to nursery rhymes. The children laughed the whole time, which was so lovely to see; one in particular wouldn’t let go of me (Adam) throughout the whole time. We followed singing with some reading in small groups. They certainly enjoyed the probs that accompanied the stories, particularly the caterpillar masks that I had brought (Ben).

As we spent time with them, we gave a number of presents that we had brought for the children. This included balloons, bouncy balls and their deafening favourite, the whistles. As they enjoyed their new toys, we got the chance to play with them and leave them with memories that they, as well as us, will never forget; it was emotional saying goodbye to everyone, particularly Poppy who is one of the vital parts of the organisation. She truly does an incredible job.

We finished our day with a team milkshake at a local cafe, reminiscing on not only today, but our whole trip. It is unfortunately nearing the end and it’s important that we reflect on this amazing experience.

Day 7: Eleven Eight

Another early start for the team today followed by another beautiful breakfast from our host Graham. Who would have known what an emotional day we would have? We left our guesthouse at 7:15 and set off to Mnyakanya via Eshowe High School to pick up our fellow sports leaders (Aphiwe, Kwanele, Nkazi and Sinabo) with whom we have a created a strong bond with over the last few days.

When we arrived at Mnyakanya High School around 8 o’clock, we swiftly made way onto the field to see what we had taught the leaders, being put into action. It was such a proud moment to watch the Mnyakanya leaders transfer their new found skills to the much smaller primary school learners. It is truly heartwarming to know that the skills we’ve supported them in developing, can live on in the community.

We then proceeded to support the primary school students at Ntolwane return postcards to other pupils back at St. Joseph’s in Pudsey. As a former student myself, of St Joseph’s (Louis), it provided me with great joy to see a bond between two very distant schools.

The reading festival lead on from this, where the children would show their reading skills with aid from St Mary’s leaders. We gifted each student with a personalised bookmark and two books to take home. The look on their faces when receive these gifts was moving and uplifting.

After a tiring morning, we had a well deserved lunch before a celebration assembly to appreciate the work of The Bambisanani Partnership over the past few days, and the many years before. The celebration included many awards for sports leadership and a few performances from both schools, including an amazing duet from Will and Harmonia.

The following hour was, for me (Louis), a very emotional and unforgettable experience. We shared gifts with our dear Mnyakanya friends. We said our final goodbyes over a very competitive game of netball (where Will discovered his true calling as a netball Goal Keeper). We will truly never forget this day and the friends we have made over the last week.

Day 6: Strive for perfection

Today we travelled, once again, to Mnyakanya High School and continued to develop their leadership skills amongst student, whilst also developing our own.

Similar to yesterday, we were split into the three sports: hockey, short tennis and tag rugby. However, today the Mnyakanya students took control of the sessions in preparation for tomorrow’s sports, reading and the first ever writing festival. Approximately 100 students from Ntolwane Primary School will travel to Mnyakanya to learn the three chosen sports. The sports leaders from Mnyakanya really took charge of teaching their sports today and it was clear to see their leadership skills developing in such a short amount of time.

The Mnyakanya students were excellent in leading their sessions and they have all clearly grown in confidence. We can all see a huge difference in each students leadership skills. After their sessions, we gave individual feedback to ensure they’re ready and confident for Wednesday’s festival where they will take charge and teach 100 local, primary school students.

Each of the Mnyakanya students received a postcard that had been written by St Joseph’s Primary School (Pudsey), as Will tomorrows students, and each crafted a reply, developing their reading/writing skills.

In the afternoon, 8 of our St Mary’s students delivered a range of lessons. Each lesson was truly enjoyed by all students and staff and this opportunity was a wonderful way to help develop our leadership skills in a different setting other than sport.

To round the day off, once we had all arrived back at the guest house and had time to reflect on the day, we had the opportunity to experience a local musician, Dave Stark, perform some great original music (check him out on Spotify). All his songs really were incredible and had strong messages behind each of them.

It’s safe to say, that today has been another amazing day and we will never forget our once in a lifetime opportunity. We will all continue to make the most of this experience as it gradually comes to a close.

Day 5: Gibraltar with a J

Today we started the day travelling to Mnyakanya High School to properly begin our leadership programme. Teaching the pupils of Mnyakanya three sports: tag rugby, half court tennis and hockey.

After introducing the sport, teaching key skills and the rules of the game, we then gave the task of teaching the sports over to the Mnyakanya students. It was an extremely rewarding feeling seeing the Mnyakanya pupils grow in confidence throughout the morning in their leadership and sports skills.

After lunch three groups from st Mary’s presented a range of informative and exciting lessons including Geography, Chemistry and Biology – all of which were very well received by the Mnyakanya students. There were some great and interesting responses to questions and activities. Some particularly questionable ones came from within the St Mary’s camp, naming no names! This opportunity allowed the St Mary’s students to expand our own leadership skills as well as grow in confidence, which all students taking part in the partnership came to agreement is one of the main qualities needed to truly be a great leader.

To finish off the day, we spent some of the evening listening to the history of South Africa, in particular Eshowe, provided to us by Graham who has been with the partnership for 13 years. He spoke about a whole range of things, such as Zulu culture, history of the town, agriculture, politics and his own heritage.

Today has been both rewarding, in terms of seeing the students lead and develops new skills, but also fun whilst playing the sports and the time given to socialise and share our cultures with each other.

We are looking forward to seeing the Mnyakanya students, and ourselves, grow even more as leaders throughout the week.

Day 4: A rock, a branch and a burnt out tree

An early start for the team today, with alarms set for 4am. We made it onto the mini bus, with half-shut eyes, for 5am and started the long journey to HluHluwe Game Reserve.

Within 10 minutes Mr Dobson had made the first spot of the day, pointing out some beautiful impalas (an animal that would make frequent appearances during the day). Miss Wood then got her eye in, determined to beat Mr Dobson, and spotted our first member of the big 5, a herd of Buffaloes. After her impressive first spot she quickly followed up with 3 elephants. We got the perfect photo opportunity with the large male standing less than 10 metres from the side of the road. 2 down, 3 to go!

Just before breakfast at 10 came a distant crowd of zebras and wildebeest, bringing back terrible childhood memories of Mufasa’s death. Long live the king!

Breakfast was eventful to say the least. As we stepped off the bus we were greeted by a mischievous looking gang of baboons. All went quiet as they disappeared, leaving us to eat our breakfast in peace. Not for long. As we were talking, a monkey saw an opportunity with our backs turned to pounce and steal Louis’ peanut butter sandwiches, right out from underneath him. The monkeys did not stop coming. We were quickly surrounded. During the time we were caught up in the monkey business, Miss Wood took the opportunity to sneak off to toilet, which resulted in our attention suddenly diverted to her screaming “SNAKE” as she bolted back out of the toilet! Sure enough a small bright green snake was sitting at the base of the toilet.

After a period of prolonged nothingness, a head became visible over the brow of the hill and as we got closer there stood a lone giant giraffe, with maple leaf-like patterns on its body, in the middle of the road. A couple of us thought we saw a rhino but we were travelling at speed at this point. The disappointment was short lived, as a few hundred metres further down the road, Izzy spotted 3 white rhinos in an opening. Bringing our tally up to 3 of the big 5 spotted all before lunch! We got the perfect photo opportunity as the zebras reappeared, this time walking by the side of the road.

Just before we headed for lunch, we saw two elephants we had seen earlier walking in the road. One happily crossed and carried on into the foliage, however, this was not the case with the other. The imposing creature clearly fancied an African stand-off, standing perfectly still in the middle of the road halting the progress of us and several others. Instead of joining it’s friend in the bushes, it started to head directly towards our mini bus. Luckily our driver, Rennie, picks his fights wisely and reversed away from the elephant who, after a while, gave up on us.

Lunch, similar to yesterday at Shakaland, did not disappoint. We shared lunch with our good friend Logan, who was our wonderful guide for the day, and his family. We visited the gift shop and admired the breathtaking views of the reserve, before continuing with the safari. Only the elusive Leopard and Lion remained to be ticked off the big 5 list. Before we had any alleged sightings of the big cats we saw more elephants. This time around 10 of them, swimming and playing at the river in the park. We feel so privileged to be able to witness these wonderful animals enjoying their natural habitat.

Time was running out and we all had our eyes peeled scanning the landscape for anything that looked like a lion or leopard. The tension rose after a few of those in the front whipped out the binoculars and camera to investigate potential sightings, however, none came to be the shy felines. Sadly, only light coloured rocks to add to the other animal shaped rocks and branches that had been previously mistaken for wildlife. Desperate to see a lion I (Ciaran) used my 20/20 vision to make out any lions lying in the grass. All of a sudden I had it, the perfect end to the day – I used binoculars to confirm what I thought was a very well camouflaged lion. The silence was deafening as I focused on the spot, however, it was only perfectly shaped flowers. Clutching at straws to save my embarrassment I stopped the bus once more, with Louis and I claiming to see a leopard on the hill and a lion in the grass. Louis took the binoculars and discovered his leopard to be a rock with ears. I then took the binoculars and stared at my suspected lion, due to the height of the grass and position of the bus it was impossible to say if it was definitely a lion but I was adamant it was, sadly, no one believed me and I have earned the flowery garland (don’t ask), for the day at Mnyakanya High School tomorrow.

Despite the fact we didn’t see all of the ‘big 5’, we all enjoyed the incredible experience of exploring and seeing African wildlife in their natural habitats. 3/5 isn’t bad going so we can all be happy with how the day went.

The day was finished with a spot of star-gazing in the garden and were amazed by the beautiful constellations and, perhaps, 2 shooting stars. Tomorrow we are back to work and can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store.

Ciaran Hammond & Will Sammon