The Westerford Connection

Featured Image: at back, from left, are Sarah Caine (Axium, OW), Steve Anderson (WHS Deputy Principal), Helen Dugmore, Emma Terblanche, Ziyaad Behardien, Yejin Jang, Ryan Massyn (WHS teacher), Alice Nuttall, Adam Steyn, Amy Anderson and Clare Acheson (Axium). In front are Michelle Paxton (Axium), Karl Naude, Craig Paxton (Axium, OW), Rebecca Helman, Lindiwe Malefane, Tara Davids, Kirthi Chetty and Caryn Stevens.

 

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There has been a remarkable link between the Zithulele story, and a high school in Cape Town, where many of us went to school (for some, many years ago!). This connection has been strengthened in recent years, as Westerford High School has brought groups of learners to visit. Their most recent tour was well captured by current Westerford learner in the article below.

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Early on the second Friday of the holiday, thirteen eager Westerfordians, Mr Anderson and Mr Massyn set off in the school bus for a nine-day trip of learning, teaching, and gaining new perspectives, in Zithulele, situated on the Wild Coast, in the Eastern Cape. There, we 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 educators and students in a number of schools and in various programmes. In our bus’ trailer were the stationery, scientific calculators, magazines and clothing that we had had donated for distribution by Axium.

Exhausted after two days of travelling, we arrived in the beautiful community of Zithulele. On the Sunday, after a game of Ultimate Frisbee on Lubanzi Beach with the newly-formed Zithulele-Wild Coast Frisbee team, we hiked to Hole in the Wall where we had lunch. The walk was a treat: most of us had never been to Hole in the Wall; the views en route, of the rural landscape – with its open land and grazing animals – were breathtaking.

On Monday morning, the real Zithulele experience began. After an early start, we headed off on our hour-long walk to where the Axium winter school was taking place. This walk enabled us to embrace what it is to be a school learner living in rural South Africa.

At the school, we were welcomed by enthusiastic students and the super-motivated Axium teachers. Here, we sat in on Grade ten, eleven and twelve classes, of Mathematics, Life Sciences (Biology), Physical Science and English. We were able to help the teachers and students, when needed, especially in English as local students speak isiXhosa as their home language, but are required to write all their examinations in English.

We learnt a tremendous amount from interacting with the students. Between classes – after solving Mathematics or Science problems – they told us about their way of life, which was so very different from ours. We spoke about various topical issues and they told us about their dreams for the future. Many said they’re aiming to become engineers, accountants or doctors. We were so completely inspired by the motivation of the students and their determination to succeed, no matter what hardships they face. Tara Davids said; “Their determination is motivating me to work even harder.”

After each day, we walked back to our exquisite accommodation, Wild Lubanzi Backpackers, meeting many locals along the way, exchanging greetings with them in isiXhosa and learning more of their language. This routine we followed for four days, determined to experience the rural way of life, and getting a feel for what it’s like to walk long distances to school every day, as most children do in the (former) Transkei region.

On two of the days, a few of our Westerford group were asked to assist with lessons for an Axium Mathematics teacher who had fallen ill. They efficiently and enthusiastically prepared Mathematics lessons and activities to do with the younger grades; it was a challenging but very rewarding task.

On the first afternoon, ‘Old-Westerfordian’, Dr Ben Gaunt gave us a guided tour of the very impressive Zithulele Hospital, of which he is the Clinical Director. Dr Gaunt arrived at Zithulele in 2005 and it is largely thanks to his vision and leadership, and the support of his closely-knit, and motivated team – many of whom are ‘Old-Westerfordians’ – that the hospital has the good reputation that it has today. He inspired us with his knowledge and his wise words, and showed us exactly what rural medicine is and what it entails.

As many of our group are interested in going into the field of Health Sciences, we were able to spend time job-shadowing doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. Dr Gaunt explained that at the hospital, all doctors are ‘generalists’ and need to be able to do whatever is required of them. While job shadowing, we were exposed to the highs and lows of rural medicine; the experience opened our eyes to the challenges of rural public health care, and how the majority of people in our country struggle to access quality care of the kind they receive in Zithulele – a hospital which certainly is a ‘beacon of hope’.

Overall, our perspectives have completely changed as a result of this taste of rural medicine and education. We feel extremely privileged to have experienced this phenomenal trip, and to have been able to help make a difference in another person’s life. We’re grateful to have made connections with people whose experiences are very different from ours, yet who are so similar to us in many ways. This trip has shown us the infinite number of ways there are to help other people and to make a difference. The group has entirely taken to heart the wise words that we were reminded of while at Zithulele: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Rebecca Helman (grade 12)

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