The last two weeks have been a whirlwind as we welcomed back our friends from Carthage College (Wisconsin USA) for another epic trip around South Africa. It is always exciting seeing a new group of faces arrive in Johannesburg along with the familiar faces of their professors, Dr Hancock and Dr Easley, who have returned year after year.
The Carthage Tour is centered around the humanitarian work the students do at Nkume Primary School (Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal), however, with schools only opening in late January this meant we would spend the first part of the tour exploring some of the country beforehand.
With a bus full of eager minds and bubbling personalities we made our way through the ever-changing landscapes of three of South Africa’s nine provinces, Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This gave the group the opportunity to experience first-hand the diversity of this extraordinary nation; a nation built on hope, despite a tumultuous past, with the guiding voice of the late Nelson Mandela weaving its way into every corner of the land.
From Soweto to Sandton, Table Mountain to Cape Point, and the Drakensberg Mountains into the untamed wilderness of Zuka Private Game Reserve, we did it all! As we traversed the country, we had the chance to meet different cultures and learn about their traditions, encounter various wildlife, and discover more about the history of South Africa by visiting places such as the Apartheid Museum and the Mandela Capture Site.
Our journey also took the students up Sani Pass and into the Kingdom of Lesotho (a landlocked country within South Africa) where the Basotho people reside. A visit to a local village gave further insight into their way of life, and a stop at The Highest Pub in Africa was well received before descending the pass and returning to our resort nestled in the Drakensberg Mountains.
One of the most special moments of the tour was arriving at Nkume Primary School to a sea of happy faces all desperate to meet their new American friends. Emotions were high among our group as they stepped off the bus and into the arms of hundreds of children; a flood of love that demanded nothing in return. After that it was dancing and welcoming speeches then the real work began as the college students got to work in the classrooms, imparting their knowledge as well as learning from the local teachers.
Some of the students who are studying to become nurses set up a nursing station to assist the children with any ailments or wounds that may need attending to. Others volunteered in the kitchen, making hundreds of hot dog rolls (generously donated by Reg Zammit) to feed the entire school and handed them out to the children along with fruit (donated by Carthage College). In between there was plenty of dancing and games, as well as a workshop from the NPO Singakwenza, which promotes early childhood development through the use of resources made solely from recycling.
(Through fundraising, Carthage College has donated a new playground and educational toys; upgraded classroom facilities; upgraded the sanitary system; funded the installation of much-needed water tanks; built an entire new kitchen for the school; created a flourishing vegetable garden; set up a computer room fitted with internet and laptops; donated whiteboards and a projector for group learning)
Zandile Sibiya (the deputy head of the school), whose selfless dedication to the children of Nkume is the reason that Dr Hancock has continued to lead groups into Eshowe for community service learning, invited our whole group to her home for an authentic traditional feast under the stars. There was singing, dancing, guitar playing and even a beautiful duet of a Bruno Mar’s song by two of the Carthage students! A truly, magical evening and sharing of cultures that will be remembered for years to come.
Our second last night was spent in the town of St Lucia, a place where humans and hippos live side by side, and a boat cruise on the estuary gave us fantastic sightings of these fearsome (but cute) looking mammals. The market in the town offers a range of local arts and crafts as well as the tastiest pineapples, which were enjoyed by all! The trip ended on an absolute high with our safari at Bayala Game Lodge where the group got to see four of the Big Five animals!