Westerford pupils aim to make a difference at rural schools

Early on the second Friday of the July holiday, 13 Westerfordians, principal Steve Anderson and teacher Ryan Massyn set off for a nine-day trip to Zithulele, situated on the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape.

There, they were to work with a non-profit organisation, Axium Education, founded by Old Westerfordian, Craig Paxton.

Axium grows opportunity and success in rural communities through working with teachers and pupils in several schools and in various programmes. In the trailer of the Westerford bus were donations from Westerford parents and past pupils, for distribution by Axium.

After two days of travelling, they arrived in Zithulele. On Sunday, they hiked to Hole in the Wall. The views en route – its open land and animals – were breathtaking.

On Monday, after an early start, the group began the hour-long walk to the Axium school. Each day, they walked to and from their accommodation, Wild Lubanzi Backpackers, meeting locals along the way, exchanging greetings with them in Xhosa.

This routine they followed for four days, determined to experience what most of the rural children have to do every morning to get to school.

At the school where the winter school was happening, they were welcomed by enthusiastic and motivated pupils and teachers. The Westerfordians sat in on maths, science and English classes, and assisted when needed.

The Westerford group learnt a tremendous amount from the pupils. Between classes, the pupils of the community shared details of their lives; they spoke of their dreams for the future. Many aim to become engineers, scientists or doctors. The Westerfordians were inspired by the determination of the pupils to succeed, regardless of the hardships they face.

One afternoon, Old Westerfordian, Dr Ben Gaunt gave the Westerford contingent a tour of the impressive Zithulele Hospital.

He arrived at Zithulele in 2005 and it is thanks to his vision, leadership, and his closely-knit team – many of whom are Old Westerfordians – that the hospital has the good reputation that it has today. Dr Gaunt explained what rural medicine entails, leaving the pupils inspired by his insight and passion for his work.

Many of the group job-shadowed a doctor, a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist for a day. This opened their eyes to the challenges of healthcare, and to how the majority of people in this country struggle to access quality care of the kind given at Zithulele, a beacon of hope.

Overall, the perspectives of the Westerford pupils who went on this trip have completely changed after this taste of rural medicine and education. They feel privileged to have had this phenomenal experience, and to have been able to make a small difference.

They are grateful to have connected with people whose experiences are very different from their own, yet who are similar to them in many ways.

Zithulele has shown the Westerfordians the infinite number of ways to make a difference.

The group has taken to heart the words that they were reminded of while at Zithulele: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Rebecca Helman is in Grade 12 and Alice Nuttall in Grade 11 at Westerford High School in Rondebosch.

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