St Peter's School
Over the Easter break, our pupils were fortunate enough to soak up the sun on a tennis tour in Portugal, and row the waters of Belgium as the Boat Club visited Ghent. Our Sixth Form World Challenge team, however, experienced something entirely different.
Following an initial visit to school by the World Challenge organisation, the UK’s leading provider of school expeditions, Alex, Ewan, Freddie, Issy, Josefien, Maddy, Owen, Rosie and Will were amongst the first to express their interest, unaware that their supervisor, Mr Whitehouse, would go on to nominate Swaziland as their destination.
Though this came as a surprise to the group, it was certainly not an unwelcome one. “We were excited as soon as Mr Whitehouse mentioned Swaziland,” explains Owen, “It’s somewhere totally new, somewhere not many people get to visit.”
“Though none of us really knew what to expect” admits Freddie.
The prospect of the unknown did nothing to dampen the team’s spirits as they set about raising their funds, even if the process required a lot of patience and dedication. “We worked for two years doing jobs like babysitting” Maddy explains, while Ewan notes how the group had to juggle the needs of the trip with those of normal school life: “Part of the reason it took so long is because a lot of the work we were doing coincided with exams, so we had to take some big breaks.”
Nonetheless, balancing academic and non-academic activities is a skill which comes naturally to St Peter’s pupils, and the group were all set to go by the end of the Easter term – even if Swaziland itself remained something of a mystery.
The whole team, L-R: Issy, Owen, Rosie, Alex, Maddy, Freddie, Will, Ewan and Josefien.
“I was expecting us to be in a village,” says Ewan, “but it wasn’t really like that. There are no kind of central town areas – it was more like a series of mini-farms, with a load of huts along the hillsides.” Though no one would have expected expansive infrastructure in Swaziland, Josefien points out just how struck they were by the contrast: “We travelled a long way on dirt roads, but by the time we got to where we were staying, there were no roads at all, just all these green, rolling hills. It was so colourful.”
The colourful character of the country clearly resonated with the group: “All the buildings, the shops, everything the people were wearing… there was colour everywhere” adds Ewan.
After setting up camp in their new home, the team got to work.
“In the first part of the trip we were helping with some building that the volunteers who’d been before us had started” explains Owen. “We were working on a classroom and a food storage area for the local kids.”
As Will points out, this is where their initial fundraising came full-circle: "Some of the money we'd raised for the trip went toward building materials and for a local builder to train us up. It was actually really rewarding to see the direct result of the work we'd already done."
Ewan elaborates on the importance of this to the community: “One of the biggest problems they face out there is getting the children access to two meals a day.”
“There was also lots of work to do around camp,” adds Alex. “We took it in turns to prepare the evening meal for everyone, including the local people who'd been helping and guiding us on the project.”
It wasn’t all hard work though, according to Maddy: “We split into two groups, so one would be working on the building and the other would play with the kids, and we’d alternate every hour.”
"We'd sit under the trees playing games and drawing," explains Issy. "It sounds pretty simple but it was great fun."
“Spending time with the kids was great,” says Owen, “you could really see how much difference your help would make for them.”
Rosie in particular has fond memories of reading stories to the children around the camp fire and learning some Swazi songs: "That was a really special moment."
It is telling that the group all agree that the time spent helping this community was the highlight of their trip, given the incredible experiences that would follow. If the landscape they’d be working within wasn’t impressive enough, the trek through some of Swaziland’s most glorious nature and their visit to a safari, provided some breathtaking moments – and close brushes with nature.
“We saw loads of baboons, antelope, eland…” says Freddie.
“And I got stung by a caterpillar, which was pretty cool” laughs Ewan.
Aside from the occasional aggressive insect, the team were pleased to report that the most significant challenge they had to overcome on the journey was the absence of plumbing.
“The worst part was probably the bucket showers” suggests Josefien, to the group’s agreement.
“I wouldn’t really call it a shower,” adds Maddy, “you just stand in a bucket and get your friends to pour water over you.”
Now returned to the comfort of school life, the team are in no doubt that the trip was a hugely rewarding experience. “It was really interesting to spend time with people whose lives and cultures are so much different from your own” says Ewan.
“And you could really clearly see the benefit the kids would get from our work” adds Maddy.
Josefien sums it up nicely: “This wasn’t anything like a typical school trip or sports tour – the whole thing was a lot more independent.”
In many ways, the Swaziland expedition epitomises Sixth Form life at St Peter’s; independence, exploration and beginning to think about how to make a difference to the world. For this group, this adventure may well be the start of something even greater.