When we are young, we do not spend much time philosophising about life and the way things are. We are influenced by experiences, over which we have limited control, and develop thoughts and ideas as a result of those experiences. More often than not, we then seek out experiences which conform to, and support, our newly formed philosophies – thereby starting a cycle that may determine a course for the rest of our lives.
In an attempt to set students up for success, the Just Grace team provides tutelage on multiple fronts to grade 10 and 11 students in Langa Township. Extra maths classes, Bible study, CV writing skills and computer literacy classes – Just Grace does it all.
After tutoring maths for a few months I got to know the kids and wanted to share some of my passions and experiences with them. I wanted to show them what the world had to offer, but I also wanted to see whether they would be interested in extreme outdoor activities.
I presented my expedition to Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, and told them about the highs and lows (excuse the pun) of mountaineering. I told them about things that they had almost certainly never heard of before, like altitude sickness and down feather jackets. I tried to work a morale into the stories, comparing life to an endless number of mountains that needed to be climbed. I told them that unless we prepared for the next challenge and decided to be positive and give it our best shot, we would ultimately meet with miserable defeat. I told them what I had learnt from the mountains, and told them to keep getting up if they should ever fall down… It was painfully cliché and awkwardly disconnected to anything they had heard before, and I thought it was a total failure.
Then, towards the end of the presentation, after answering a strange question, I agreed to take them for a hike up a mountain in Cape Town… The class erupted with applause and cheerfulness.
I was struck by the weight of the promise I had made, and initially regretted making it. I have very little experience working with kids, and the idea of leading a full class of pubescent kids up a mountain seemed like a big deal.
A few months later, and I find myself at the bottom of Lions Head, next to Table Mountain, about to take 27 kids on what is for most of them the first hike of their lives. It is clear to see that they have no idea what to expect. The beautiful summer day doesn’t stop them from wearing jeans and other fashionable clothing. Their daypacks range from non-existent to ludicrous combinations of 2 litre sodas, meat pies and other oddities. They look up at the task ahead of them and cackle with nerves and excitement … I am a little worried.
A quick briefing and the first group is off. Many of my friends have volunteered their services as mountain guides, and I watch as they lead and sweep the kids around the first corner. Already there are stragglers lagging behind…. It will be a long day I am sure.
The second group is buzzing and ready to go. I try to delay them with idle chitchat and mountain talk, but they will have none of it. A few minutes later I can’t hold them back any longer and they fly off at a brutal pace. In no time (stopping only to watch in awe as a paraglider launches off the track in front of us) they have caught up with the first group.
At first I was worried about losing somebody or losing control over the group, but soon enough I realised that they were enjoying the experience way too much to cause trouble. They followed instructions immediately and fully, and without exception they seemed to be having a great time. The fit and well prepared were leading at a cracking pace, with only one of the guides being able to keep up with them, while the rest were taking their time and resting as often as needed.
The girl said to point out the mountain to her family once home.
Once on top, it was clear to see that everybody was happy to have come along. The view was spectacular, and they were massively intrigued by the map and binoculars that I had brought with. Everybody was congratulating each other as the feast began – they obviously didn’t want to carry all that weight back down again. With a full tank of gas and a little bit of rest, the way down went even smoother than the way up, and before I knew it we were in the car on the way back to the township.
I have many special memories of the hike, like the girl who told me that even though she was tired she would keep on going because she realised that the hard work would be worth it, or the girl who said that when she gets home she will point out the mountain to her mom and sister and tell them she had been to the top, or the guys up front who were just about running up the mountain. What I will undoubtedly remember most about the entire experience, however, is the obedience and enthusiasm shown by 27 kids from a public school in Langa Township. Their cooperation and excitement have taught me to expect more from people, and shown me once again what a great teacher nature can be.
I hope to organise many similar outings in the future, and through these outings I hope to add eco-consciousness to the variety of ways that Just Grace is contributing to a brighter future in South Africa.
Thanks must go to everybody who helped the idea become a reality, and to Fairfield Dairy, who supply Woolworths, for sponsoring some delicious and nutritious snacks.
(Photos by Neenah Moore)