Having spent the best part of 24 hours travelling from Leeds to Eshowe (via Dubai), Friday 23 June represented our first full day in South Africa as part of the Bambisanani partnership, alongside St. Mary's Menston. Our first visit of the day was to Ntolwane Primary School, where we were warmly welcomed, and it was clear from the start that the work St. Mary's have done in this area over the past decade has been greatly appreciated. We felt privileged to be received as part of their travelling party for the 2017 visit! The Deputy Head Teacher of the school appointed two prefects as our tour guides for the morning, and we visited a number of classrooms to briefly gain an insight into a typical school day in a primary school in this region of KwaZulu Natal. The staff were very responsive to us and were keen to talk to about their roles in school and how they teach. We were treated to a performance of a traditional Zulu dance, with accompanying singing, to welcome us.
In the afternoon, we travelled to Mnyakanya High School (the main partner school alongside St. Mary's) where we were again warmly greeted, and were treated to a series of songs from the school choir, poems written by pupils, and a guided tour by some of the pupils involved with the Bambisanani programme this year. The main aim of the partnership, is for St. Mary's pupils to work alongside their South African counterparts, to help develop leadership skills through sporting participation. This culminates in a sport and reading festival, which the Mnyakanya pupils will deliver to the primary school pupils at Ntolwane next Wednesday, facilitated by the support and guidance offered by the pupils from St. Mary's pupils. Early work towards this end goal started in the afternoon, with St. Mary's staff and students delivering introductory leadership sessions (as pictured below, and with Diane getting involved as well!), before playing netball, touch rugby, and rounders.
Upon returning back to our guesthouse (Sugar Hill Manor, Eshowe) in the evening, staff and students from University of Leeds (led by Andy Lockwood and his team) joined us to share some of the successes from their two week visit, which had preceded our own arrival. Discussions with the University of Leeds team helped to further our knowledge of some of the wider, excellent work conducted within the KwaZulu Natal region as part of the Bambisanani partnership. A fascinating talk on astrology followed, delivered by Logan Govender, a fascinating man whose all-round knowledge serves to match the highly valued contribution that he has made to the partnership over the years. The evening drew to a close with games and songs around the camp fire, capping off an incredible first 24 hours in South Africa.Day 2
The weekends in KwaZulu Natal allow for some downtime, so we spent Saturday morning walking through the local forest area with the team from St. Mary's, before visiting the Shakaland cultural centre. Our Shakaland tour guide offered a fascinating insight into Zulu culture and family life, culminating in a captivating performance of traditional song and dance, including a cameo appearance by Chris, alongside a handful of brave volunteers from St. Mary's. The picture below, taken as part of the tour, shows us in our warrior stance, ready for action!
In the afternoon, we again met up with colleagues and students from University of Leeds to have a friendly (but well contested) game of football rounders on the grounds of Gratton Primary School (where the team had been conducting some of their partnership work previously). The staff from the University of Leeds (Andy, Tom and Tilly) invited us back to their hotel after the sporting battle had concluded, to further discuss the work they conduct in KwaZulu Natal, and to consider avenues for further collaborations between our two universities as part of the Bambisanani partnership. Whilst Leeds Trinity University's involvement in this programme is still in the early stages, conversations between ourselves and the staff representing St. Mary's and University of Leeds suggest that exciting possibilities lie ahead, with arrangements already in place to meet up back on home soil to further consider these opportunities. It is anticipated that there will be a number of associated placement opportunities available next year, and we look forward to encouraging students to start their planning and fundraising so that they can share in this magnificent experience as part of their academic studies.
Sunday was an absolutely magical day. That is, aside for the 4am alarm call! Our third day required an early start, as we had a long journey ahead in order to get to Hhluhluwe (pronounced Shush-loo-ay) Game Reserve. With a target set of ticking off the ‘Big Five’ animals, an early start was essential. We arrived at the park around 7, and after a short introductory talk from our friend and tour guide for the day, Logan, we began a long day of animal spotting; three zebras at the roadside within 5 minutes of us passing through the gates served as a good omen.
By 11:30 we had successfully spotted all 5 of our targeted animals, a first for any travelling party with the Bambisanani partnership. Over the course of the day we saw a few elephants, a sizeable herd of rather wary buffalo and quite a large number of rhinos, including a waterside battle between 6 rhinos which we watched intensely for around 15 minutes (as pictured below). Nobody ever sees a leopard on these visits apparently, but the eagle eyed Miss Jackson from St. Mary’s had spotted the hind of one scarpering from the river just as we turned the corner. This left only lions to be ticked off the list, and that is where Logan’s experienced eye came in handy. It took a while for us to find a useful reference point, but with some perseverance, we saw two lions resting under the shade of the canopy ahead of us. Big five, done!
Spirits on the minibus were high, and with giraffes, warthogs, impalas and monkeys also spotted by ourselves and our now seasoned animal spotting friends from St. Mary’s, we were free to spend the long journey home reflecting on what had been a fruitful, and thoroughly enjoyable day on safari!
Monday represented the start of a new school week, and so after breakfast we headed to Mnyakanya High School to continue our partnership work on developing leadership through sport and cooperation. A number of St. Mary’s pupils would also be delivering their pre-planned curriculum in the afternoon, covering a range of topics from English history to music. Teaching materials were packed onto the bus, and off we went.
The morning started with St. Mary’s pupils teaching their South African counterparts a choice of netball, touch rugby, or rounders, the latter of which was supervised by Chris, alongside the staff from St. Mary’s. Later on, the roles reversed, and the leaders from Mnyakanya were tasked with teaching the same games back to the St. Mary’s pupils. Language barriers and a lack of experience in those particular sports posed potential barriers early on, but as the morning progressed, the confidence and professionalism shown by the St Mary’s pupils, was increasingly mirrored the high school pupils. The signs are certainly promising in advance of the sport and reading festival on Wednesday.
After lunch, a number of the St. Mary’s pupils delivered their lessons with a great degree of success, and after our first full day at the school, the potential for Leed Trinity students to offer further help and support with the project in years to come became increasingly apparent. A very good day’s work done!
Diane was keen to establish links with Ntlowane Primary School, so made the most of the opportunity to pop up after lunch to meet with the Deputy Head and Reception Class teachers. She’s arranged to go into the school tomorrow to work alongside them. We’ll keep you posted about how she gets on.
Our fifth day in KwaZulu Natal was structured the same as Monday, with the leaders from St. Mary’s spending the morning helping the leaders from Mnyakanya learn how to teach their chosen sports (netball, touch rugby or rounders). Lunch followed, after which some more innovative and inspiring classroom lessons were delivered by St. Mary’s pupils, covering biology, maths and psychology. It has been a joy to be in the classrooms over the last two afternoons observing these lessons. The students who have delivered them are an absolute credit to themselves, and to St. Mary’s Menston also. Excellent jobs, guys!
Indeed, as our time with the Bambisanani partnership progresses, it is becoming increasingly apparent how impactful the programme can be. The South African pupils are challenged and encouraged to develop their general and sport-specific leadership skills, and at the same time, the pupils from St. Mary’s are continually learning effective ways to overcome language barriers, the sporting inexperience of their South African counterparts, and other potential cultural barriers. The sport and reading festival for the Ntlowane Primary pupils is due to run tomorrow, and as it stands, it will serve as a fitting celebration of the excellent work that has taken place between St. Mary’s and Mnyakanya so far.
Whilst all this was going on, Diane spent a thoroughly enjoyable and productive morning at Ntlowane Primary School working with their three Reception classes. Diane was delighted with the welcome she received and the enthusiasm the Early Years staff have for building partnership work with Leeds Trinity. They are very interested in our students going out to Ntlowane Primary School on placement in June 2018.
Whilst at the school, Diane found out more about the curriculum and the daily routine, and was impressed with the positive attitude to learning that the children clearly have. Diane had taken an inflatable globe with her to use as a prop, to tell the story of ‘A Balloon for Grandad’. With staff working alongside her to interpret English to Zulu, the children really seemed to enjoy the story. After some counting rhymes and games, the children had snack time before all going outside to participate in cooperative games using the parachute that Diane had taken with her. This was clearly quite a novelty for the children and staff, and after modelling a few games, Diane gave the staff a resource pack to keep along with the parachute so that they will be able to integrate the use of it into their school day. What was so promising about being in the school, was the willingness of the staff to share their Early Years practice, and their interest in developing further partnership with Leeds Trinity University under the Bambisanani umbrella next year.
The blog for day six has proven to be very difficult to write, as there were simply too many amazing, inspiring and heartwarming moments to try and capture. All the hard work had been building towards Wednesday, the day of the Bambisanani partnership sports and reading festival. The festival was delivered at Mnyakanya High School, and by the Mnyakanya leaders, to the primary school children from Ntolwane Primary School. As the day’s work began, Chris was busy working with the St. Mary’s and Mnyakanya team to set up the sports field and the hall for the day ahead.
Meanwhile, Diane set off in the minibus (with Jordan, our amazing and knowledgeable driver) to pick up the primary school children. Anticipation was high as the bus returned, and the excitement felt by the children was clearly apparent as around 40 Ntolwane pupils piled off a minibus designed to hold 23! Two more minibus trips followed, and once all the pupils had arrived, and everyone had been given a sports t-shirt (some of which had been kindly donated by Leeds Trinity staff), we were ready to start our first sports rotation.
For the next few hours, the groups of learners rotated between the netball, touch rugby and rounders games, with ourselves, and the St. Mary’s pupils and staff, effectively taking a back seat whilst the Mnyakanya leaders took their respective groups through sport-specific drills and games with confidence and accuracy. It really was a pleasure to see how much they have developed in such a short space of time as a result of their involvement in the programme. The pictures below aim to capture some of the magical moments which occurred during the morning session.
Luckily, just as the South African winter’s sun began to pose a challenge for us out on the field, we then moved inside for a short drinks break before then going into the hall to form reading circles with the primary school pupils. A huge number of books had been donated by primary schools affiliated with the partnership, and it really was gratifying to see the happiness they felt from sitting in small circles with their peers, and reading through some short stories (as led by the St. Mary’s and Mnyakanya pupils). Indeed, that joy was only exceeded when the same pupils were told that they could take their favourite two books home with them, along with the sports shirt that they were wearing. What a truly heart-warming moment.
As we broke for lunch, the Ntolwane pupils then said their goodbyes, and began their walk home. Chris walked them to the gate of Mnyakanya High School to say a few emotional goodbyes. The image of the children walking away and up the hill with their shirts on, and their books in hand, is an image that will live long in the memory. As Diane has started to identify as part of this trip, there is so much scope for further collaborative work with the local primary schools, and we look forward to hopefully sending some Leeds Trinity staff and students into selected schools next year, for an equally rewarding and beneficial experience.
After a well-earned break for lunch, an awards assembly for the Bambisanani partnership followed. The assembly included some truly wonderful and touching moments, and served as a fitting celebration of the excellent work conducted between the schools this year. Poems and readings from Mnyakanya and St. Mary’s pupils and staff followed, along with some traditional Zulu dancing by some male pupils (which was received by the female audience with the same enthusiasm displayed at a One Direction concert!). Two of the pupils from St. Mary’s also sang songs, which were very popular to say the least amongst the assembly audience. We sat through both songs with goose bumps for the duration of the songs. Yet another memorable moment!
The day finished with a delicious BBQ cooked by the staff at Mnyakanya, and a friendly (but fiercely contested) mixed-gender netball match between St. Mary’s (and Chris) and the Mnyakanya staff. The result was not important (we won for what it’s worth!). What mattered most was that everyone had experienced a truly emotional and rewarding day, celebrating a wonderful few days working alongside Mnyakanya and Ntolwane.
Day seven represented our final full day in the Eshowe region and encompassed an emotionally charged trip to the local Zulufadder Orphanage in the morning, and a tour of Eshowe High School in the afternoon (led by the four Eshowe students who had spent the week as honorary St. Mary’s leaders).
The morning at Zulufadder was one of the most rewarding experiences that either of us have ever had throughout our professional careers. The greeting we received will live with us for a very long time, along with the image of a group of smiling faces eagerly awaiting to hold our hands, climb on our arms and shoulders, and feel Chris’ beard!
After a series of wonderful songs sang by the children, and an enjoyable game of ‘I love my teddy bear’, the St. Mary’s pupils then spent some time sat in reading circles, delivering their well-prepared and innovative story sacks. Before we knew it, the orphans were sporting an assortment of Roman helmets and swords, glitter, tiaras, animal masks and sea shells. It made for an almost incomprehensible, but wonderful, image.
Whilst all this was going on, suitcases full of school pumps (donated by the wider Bambisanani and Leeds Trinity family) were carried in, a gesture which moved Poppy, the lead teacher at Zulufadder, to tears. The reaction of the staff at Zulufadder, provided a very genuine reminder as to how much the work of the Bambisanani partnership is appreciated within the Eshowe community. Yet another moment which will leave a lasting impression on us from this incredible trip.
We also had the pleasure of meeting Minenhle Shinga, an ex-‘graduate’ of Zulufadder, who told us his inspiring story, including how he is currently studying for his BSc in Chemistry, and has aspirations to complete a PhD. He spends his holidays volunteering at Zulufadder, and speaks of his desire to be an aspirational role model for the children there at present. His story really is a remarkable tale, with him overcoming all different types of adversity, to ultimately go on and achieve amazing things that we in England perhaps take for granted. Minenhle and Chris eagerly exchanged contact details so that contact can be maintained as Leeds Trinity’s engagement with the Bambisanani partnership hopefully continues across years to come.
Prior to our emotional goodbyes at Zulufadder, our travelling party for the day was gladly joined by the Headteacher from Mnyakanya, three of his staff, and four student leaders. There is a real sense of community spirit within the region, and the role of education as part of an individuals development does seem to be highly valued. South African institutions seem eager to work collectively, and alongside St Mary’s and the wider Bambisanani family, to help pursue opportunities for change and progression within the local region, and based on discussions that we have had on this trip, the future looks bright in that respect.
Following a short drive, our four Eshowe leaders (Kayelihle Biyla, Sam Ximba, Sibusiswe Thusi and Keelyrn Pillay) then took us on a tour of their high school. The facilities and campus available there provided a stark contrast to our previous experiences of the South African education system; and seemingly provided plenty of food for thought for the Mnyakanya group who were still with us.
A picnic lunch and sociable drink at a local guesthouse followed, with stories and pictures from another magical day being shared amongst staff and pupils alike. Upon returning back to Sugar Hill Manor for the final time this trip, another delicious traditional South African meal was thoroughly enjoyed, prior to a final awards ceremony, which provided an opportunity for the St Mary’s pupils and staff to thank each other for contributing towards an experience that none of us are ever likely to forget. We were both invited up to receive a gift and a card from the students, and we can honestly say that it has been an absolute pleasure to work closely alongside them over the last few days. They are each individually, yet equally, brilliant, and will no doubt use their experiences from this trip to help catapult them along their seemingly already guaranteed successful personal and professional lives. Thanks for making us feel so welcomed and valued, guys!
A camp fire and series of games followed, after which we returned to our rooms with heavy hearts, to pack our bags ready for the return home tomorrow. We will look to produce one final blog post at some in the near future, as we attempt the seemingly impossible take of summarising just how amazing and enjoyable this trip has been! In the meantime…
This final blog post will offer a brief account of our last goodbyes in South Africa, as well as providing some overall reflections on what has been a truly incredible 8 days. Having arrived home mid-afternoon on Saturday, we have taken our time to try and write this final blog post, in the hope that it can go some way towards capturing how lucky we feel to have been part of the 2017 Bambisanani visit.
Prior to starting our long journey home on Friday, we first said some emotional goodbyes to Graham and the staff at Sugar Hill Manor. They really have been sensational hosts throughout the duration of our stay, and a number of gifts were handed out by staff and students alike as a small token of our collective appreciation. Having loaded up the minibus one last time, our equally amazing driver, Jordan, then drove us to Durban airport, stopping off at Logan’s family home just outside the city for one last celebratory meal. Sharing a final meal as a group, all seated around the same table, proved a fitting ending to a wonderful visit. The food did not disappoint either, and we would like to say a big thank you to Logan and the Govender family for welcoming us into their home on our way to the airport. Both Logan and Jordan have been an almost constant, and much valued, presence throughout our visit, so it was a pleasure discus our personal highlights, and our aspirations for the future of the partnership, over a lovely home-cooked meal.
From there we headed off to the airport, and I am pleased to report that we all arrived home safe and sound (albeit rather tired from another 24 hour period in transit). Throughout the journey, staff and students could often be heard exchanging stories for the amazing time we shared together, or quietly scrolling through the countless pictures we have collectively taken. Those pictures, along with our blog posts (and those of Mr. Hammil from St. Mary’s), help to ensure that this incredible visit is documented in some lasting form. We sincerely hope that visitors to those pages, have enjoyed engaging with both.
The task of summarising our visit to KwaZulu Natal, South Africa as part of the Bambisanani partnership has proven to be a challenging one to say the least. Whilst we had always intended on approaching this project with an enthusiastic and proactive approach, I doubt that either of our us could have ever truly envisaged just how remarkable and enjoyable this visit would be. For the most part, we have the amazing staff and students from St. Mary’s to thank for that.
The excellent organisation skills and personable nature of Mrs. Chattoe (Cath), Ms. Jackson (Ellie), and Mr. Hammil (Tom), ensured that the visit was ran professionally, but also importantly, that it remained fun and sociable throughout. Even if the card games of an evening did get somewhat heated on occasion! As for the students; Tash; Katie; George; Tadgh; Pauline; Ewan; Phoebe; Niamh; Lorna; Rosie; Larissa; Ezra; Megan; and Laurence, it has been a pleasure to spend the last week or so with them, both collectively and as individuals. Undoubtedly they all have bright futures ahead of them, and whilst this experience has naturally helped them to develop their leadership and associated professional skills, it is easy to see how it will also continue to benefit them personally. The kind-heartedness and emotional intelligence that they have shown whilst in South Africa has, at times, been absolutely incredible.
It is for this very reason that we believe it is essential that Leeds Trinity University looks to build upon our work this year, by pursuing further opportunities for involvement as part of the Bambisanani Partnership. Any visit which allows for; genuine collaborative work alongside high school and primary school children from a different culture; a visit to an orphanage; star gazing; a safari trip to a game reserve; camp fires; and sporting activities, is bound to be of benefit to any individual higher education student who is fortunate enough to be given the opportunity. The fact that this work leaves a tangible and seemingly lasting impact within the KwaZulu Natal region, makes the visit all the more rewarding, and ensures that the work truly is mutually beneficial. We believe that there is a particular opportunity for a range of our students to be involved in a potential visit next year, and we look forward to discussing these possibilities further with colleagues from Leeds Trinity, St. Mary’s, and University of Leeds, in the coming weeks.
As a closing note, St. Mary’s have asked us to individually share our own personal reflections on the visit as a whole within the next week or so, and we will look to add them to this blog when they are finished. Until then…
Chris & Diane
For more blogs about the 2017 Bambisanani partnership, please visit the St. Mary's blog