Taking the lead but learning much in the Cederberg

By Mike van Haght

Every year, all the pupils at Cannons Creek Independent High school in Pinelands take to the wilderness areas around the Cape for the school’s annual Adventure Week.

The idea is to take pupils out of their comfort zones and expose them to challenges of various kinds under exciting but fun conditions. For a number of years, the Cannons Creek Grade 10s have spent a week hiking and climbing in the Cederberg mountain range, enjoying the rugged but awesome scenery, the crystal clear mountain pools and streams and sleeping under the stars.

This year, we decided to do things slightly differently. Instead of just doing it for ourselves, we felt we should give something back, and arranged to work with preschoolers in three small communities in the Cederberg – Heuningvlei, Grasvlei and Witwater.

Rustic hamlets where life is hard

For years, these three hamlets had no road access to major towns and the only way in or out was either by donkey cart or on foot. Recently, this has changed – one can now gain access by 4×4 vehicles and limited electricity is available in some of the homes. Nonetheless, the folk in Heuningvlei, Grasvlei and Witwater live basic lives, largely dependent on what they grow in their fields for food, and on their feet or donkeys for transport. While the children of school-going age attend boarding school, the preschoolers are not as fortunate and rarely have the opportunity to receive the type of stimulation that we nowadays realise is so critical in early childhood development.

Student teachers, well prepared

The Grade 10 Cannons Creekers were divided into three groups, with each group preparing two hours of activities for the preschool children in each community – including finger painting, bean bag games, cutting out, counting songs, and so forth. Our students raised funds to buy the necessary materials and practised under the guidance of the Cannons Creek preschool teachers.

On day one, we left Pinelands by bus at 05:00 and were dropped off in the Cederberg later that morning. After a 12 km walk with full kit, we arrived at the first settlement, from where we split up, with the last group arriving at the hamlet of Grasvlei at 18:00 that evening. After a cold first night under the stars, day two saw groups of Grade 10s getting open-air classrooms set up under pear trees and wherever a bit of shade or lawn could be found. At 09:30, the first classes started. Communicating simply (the challenge of teaching in Afrikaans is a whole separate article), we were totally immersed in the lessons and the toddlers we were working with. Soon it was time to walk the children back to their homes and hand them back to their moms or grannies.

The travelling Cannons Creek preschool

Over the next two days the process was repeated, until each group had spent two hours with the toddlers in each community. On the final evening, the entire grade met up again and enjoyed a pot roast done in potjies on the fire while reliving their experiences and swapping stories with classmates. Next morning, everyone packed up and set off by foot to the pick-up point 12 km away, where we flopped into comfortable bus seats and slept all the way back to Pinelands.

We have been invited back again next year by the three communities with which we worked. We have already chatted about how we can improve our contribution next year, and will be sitting down with next year’s Grade 10s to brief them on what to expect and how to go about getting ready for what will be a lifechanging experience for them.

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Category: School Travel, Winter 2011

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