Twenty-one Farlington students, three teachers and an expert expedition leader from specialist company ‘True Adventure’ had the true adventure of a lifetime this summer in Tanzania. Lorraine Leivers – mountain guide, Iron Woman competitor and all-round inspirational woman – once again led Farlington girls and staff into East Africa. The brief was to experience the real country, meet the people, do some meaningful work alongside local people and then have some rest and relaxation.
Just a few hours after breaking up from school, the team landed in Dar es Salaam. We spent a night in a hostel before heading off on a long bus drive south to the Uluguru Mountains, where we were due to trek up a mountain of 2200 metres! Although stunningly beautiful, the mountain range looked very daunting in the morning light the next day. Backpacks were shouldered and day one of the trek involved a climb up to 1000 metres where a base camp hut awaited us.
The students at camp
The path to the bottom of this mountain had begun almost two years earlier in October 2013 when the trip had been launched on the back of the highly successful Zambia Expedition, led by Lorraine and True Adventure. The girls had committed to raise £2800 each by July 2015. The months between the two dates had been filled with evening and weekend jobs: dog walking, lawn mowing, mucking out of numerous stables, raffles and more cake sales than you would believe! Regular meetings ensured the group stayed focused on their goals and together as a team. Excitement built throughout the final academic year, via a Training Weekend on the South Downs, a leadership conference for the staff and a very wet day spent climbing the Three Surrey Peaks in February.
A fundamental part of the True Adventure philosophy is that the students run the trip. They make all the decisions, handle the money, buy the provisions and fulfil all the management roles. This process began long before we began our mountain climb, back in Horsham on the day of departure. Each day was run by a student leadership team, developing crucial decision-making skills, along with people management, diplomacy, negotiation and some very tricky maths when the exchange rate differed from that expected! Leadership skills came to the fore on the second day, which saw the team triumph at the peak – over 2200 metres above our starting point the day before.
Truly now operating as a team, we headed off via a long bumpy road journey again to our project site. Kinole is a quiet, isolated village at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains. The school of 1,050 students and just nineteen teachers is at the heart of the community. Muslim and Christian families live and study side by side. The children and staff clearly had great pride in their school, coming to the area early to sweep the whole campus each morning with handfuls of twigs. Although loved, the buildings were in a sorry state with huge holes in some of the concrete floors and dirty faded walls, which simply did not reflect the atmosphere and ethos of the place.
The Farlington team had just a few days to transform the site physically so that it better reflected the positive, upbeat, happy community that it housed. Classrooms were emptied, concrete and gallons upon gallons of paint were bought and mixed, local workmen were hired, holes were filled, walls were scrubbed and then painted.
Students pose with paintbrushes while decorating classrooms
We were camping out in the classrooms, sleeping on concrete floors with rows of mosquito nets strung up across the space. Although quite cramped and cosy, with very little room for private space, the team dynamics ensured all went smoothly and that the focus was very much on completing the job in hand. By the end of our stay we had painted 11 classrooms inside and out and four new floors had been laid. Classroom furniture had been mended and the school now matched the expectations and high standards of the students and staff. In his speech at the end of our labours, the headmaster commented specifically on how amazed he was that a group of women could achieve so much physical work in such a short space of time. In a country where 95% of girls do not go onto secondary education but into domestic life and marriage, it was a bonus to show an example of just how much women can achieve when given the chance.
Sad goodbyes were said as the team headed off to safari! Although just twenty-four hours in length, on safari we saw: a pride of lions (including a proud male and some adorable cubs), lots of giraffes, including a baby or two, lots of elephants (some VERY close up) and quite a few baby elephants, baboons, hippo, gazelles and crocodiles!
Students on safari
Our final night was spent at Kipepeo beach at Kingamboni, a stunning stretch of sand around a sweeping bay. Everyone, whether they were sixteen or forty-eight, had been changed by the trip. A Tanzanian adventure proved to be a unique and wonderfully varied, exciting experience for us all. If, as we hope, we seek to educate the whole person, then I do believe we witnessed the end of that process. We took out teenage girls and brought back confident, competent, educated young women. They achieved that transition themselves as a team, with the guidance and support of True Adventure and Lorraine. These twenty-one girls packed more into two weeks’ adventure than many do in an entire gap year; they certainly made a genuine, long-lasting difference to the lives of over a thousand students and staff of an East African school. The key to education is to challenge, learn and triumph; our twenty-one girls certainly did that!
Jane Williams is head of year 10 and 11 at Farlington School.