This is going to be a full on, information packed blog. Today has got to be one of, if not the best day of my career. It had everything, fun, dancing, emotional moments and a look to the stars. Let’s call this section an abstract.
The day started earlier than usual, we were up at seven and sat having breakfast at 7:30. Although the intensity of the week and the heavy workload was starting to take its toll on the group (bedtime first night 1am, bedtime last night 10:30am). The group was fired up for what would proved to be an amazing day and one that highlighted how much work they had done with the South African Leaders.
With that we packed the van full of books that had been donated for the local primary school, hot dogs for lunch and a massive amount of football shirts brought all the way from Leeds. Then we were away, for our last trip out to Mnyakanya. We all took the opportunity to look out at the amazing view one last time.
We got a great welcome when we arrived at school, the sense of excitement was palpable. We took the food, books and kit up to the classroom to meet and discuss plans for the day. The previous day Mitchell had spent some time with myself to put a plan together for the day and to create an order of play. I must say he did a cracking job! With all of the group together, Mrs Chattoe fired up the troops with a churchillian style speech and asked the SA students to go and prepare their areas for the delivery of their sport.
Myself and Mitchell stayed behind to sort out the football shirts and how we were going to give them out. The festival would be delivered to nearly 100 primary students so we decided to give a shirt to each of them! We separated the shirts in to yellows which were made up of Brighouse and Horsforth shirts, a blue and white group which were made up of Doncaster Rovers, Rossington All Saints (my old school) and Barnby Moor and finally a mixed group which had elements of all the donations made.
In no time the primary children had arrived and received a fantastic welcome from all of the student leaders. Plenty of high fives given and handshakes shared. The children were then presented with their t-shirts.
To everyone who donated, the look on their faces will live long in the memory. They will be cherished, looked after and more importantly used!
After a short address, the groups were sent to their sport to get underway playing and participating. As I mentioned in a previous blog, language has been an interesting one to observe. English into Zulu and Zulu into English. I was keen to see how that would work out when it came to the Mynakanya students communicating, explaining and leading to the primary school students. I was also keen to see how much of the information, drills and rules the students would remember.
I should have had no such worries! The South African leaders were absolutely amazing, the change in them just by how they communicate was incredible. They spoke with confidence, they had control of the group and knew exactly what they needed to do. The primary students were hanging off their every word. Teaching Rounders, Tag Rugby and Handball is no easy task but teaching it to students who have never seen it before is a real achievement. The students should be very proud of their efforts because we are. A couple of students really caught my eye during the four days due to their effort and enthusiasm. Both Mzamo and Kasper who were Rounders leaders were excellent and have the potential to become real superstars!
The sporting activities were brilliant, the primary school students really enjoyed themselves as did the leaders. Due to the fact that the South African leaders were so good, our leaders were left at a little bit of a loose end! Looking across the field you saw a collection of St Mary’s students just watching and observing how all of their hard work played out. The St Mary’s team are a talented and special bunch and the way that the SA leaders performed is a reflection of them as people. It has been a real privilege to work alongside them all week.
In a flash it was all over and the sports festival was complete. The group gathered and Elliot gave a quick speech to thank everyone for their efforts. We then invited the primary students to the main hall for the reading festival.
Over the last 12 months, St Mary’s have been collecting new and old books to take to SA to give to the local primary school and Zulufadder the local orphanage. Basically, due to the generosity of the local community we have pretty much brought across a full library! The hall was filled with books ranging from Harry Potter to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The leaders from both St Mary’s and South Africa then invited the primary schools student to collect a number of books to read. Sitting in circles students either read to or listened to the primary school students reading to them. I am from a sport background and I will be honest I am not a big reader but the sight of over 100 people reading together was special, lots of noise and lots of smiles.
I had the opportunity to listen to the lovely Amahle read to me about lions in Africa. I had such fun listening to her read in perfect English and the smile on her face whilst doing so is something I won’t forget. One thing I have learned whilst out here is the thirst for knowledge and education. At the age of 11, Amahle can speak and read in Zulu and English. That is pretty special. I also learnt a lot about lions, never too old to learn! At the end of the festival, the books were then presented to primary school. Amahle told me that she was looking forward to reading all of the new books and practicing her English. The books will do so much good and give students a lot of new skills and confidence. With that we said our goodbyes to the students from Ntolwane Primary School.
Over the course of the week they have given us so much joy, through their enthusiasm, smiles and eagerness to learn. Thank you.
A surprise then lurked around the corner, Mnyakanya had provided all the St Mary’s students and staff with a special lunch to say thank you for our efforts. It was a really nice way to finish the practical element of the programme. We sat and ate chicken, burgers and salad all together as a team. You could see looking down the table how much fun everyone has had and how special the experience had been.
After lunch, another surprise! Over the course of the year the students of Mnyakanya have been raising money to purchase gifts to give to us all as a way of thanking us for our time and efforts. This was a real special moment, we were all presented with our very own South African scarf. A lovely gesture and an item I will keep with me forever, a little piece of Mnyakanya and South Africa will be at home in Barnsley.
With the partnership delivery over it was time to celebrate with a special assembly organised by Mnyakanya. I will be completely honest, this has to be one of the most surreal, loud and magnificent things that I have had the pleasure of being a part of.
While we were eating lunch, we could hear some loud music and screaming coming from the main hall. This would prove to be the main theme of the entire assembly!
As the team took the short walk across to the hall, the music and noise got steadily louder until we walked into the main hall. The noise then turned up at least four notches!
We took our seats and waited for the big wigs to take their seats. I tell no lies when I compare the noise in the hall to a gig at the Leeds Arena! It was loud and raucous! Not your standard school assembly! Every new song greeted a screaming and dancing. An extraordinary sight!
Eventually the noise died down and then turned up again when the principal, William entered the room. It is clear to see the regard the Mnyakanya students hold their principal in!
The assembly started with an excellent rendition of the South African national anthem by everyone on the room and a short Zulu prayer read by our MC. This was then followed by one of the South African leaders thanking us all for our time and efforts. She said that they had loved their time with us and that we need to come again next year.
This was then followed by an awards ceremony led by Mrs Chattoe. These awards presented by St Mary’s to students of both Mnyakanya and Ntolwane really highlight what the partnership is all about. Students who have shown commitment, leadership and also sporting talent. The reaction of all the award winners really highlighted how much the awards mean to the students, the school and the wider community. It is fantastic to celebrate all the good that goes on both while the project is in operation but also throughout the school year.
Next on the agenda was a number of presentations from St Mary’s to Mnyakanya. The partnership has been going for almost 10 years and in this time their has been much progress and development. To show this and to make a commitment to continue the project in following years, St Mary’s have produced a number of posters to show what happened in each year of the project. The posters are excellent and show all of the hard work that has gone into making the partnership such a success!
The final presentation was courtesy of the St Mary’s students. To leave a little bit of Leeds in the school all of the students had put together to buy two compete set of Leeds United shirts for the school to use in soccer matches. What a great idea, soccer/football is massive in South Africa and I hope the kit will inspire the next generation of footballers!
Finally from the St Mary’s, we had Niall and Elliot putting on a fine performance on the guitar playing songs from Biffy Clyro and The Beatles. They did a great job, I wish I could play like that. I play more like the guys who came on after.
Then the fun began….
There were a mix of traditional Zulu dancing led by one of the students “playing” the guitar…. Followed by a group “rapping” and dancing…. I cannot describe how loud the music was and how the students were reacting. Screaming, arms in the air, standing and jumping. Just wow.
Finally, the Mnyakanya principal, William closed with a short speech to thank us for our support and congratulate the South African leaders on their progress and the impact they have had. Then the music exploded once again. Like I said interesting, surreal and memorable. Very, very memorable….
After the assembly, we went back to the classroom to say our thank you and goodbyes to the SA leaders. As is customary for the trip, all the students and staff give their spare Bambisanani shirts to the South African students of their choice. As well as that, all of the students and myself had brought gifts to give to the South African leaders. This proved to be an emotional moment for a lot of people including myself. I decided to give my T-Shirt to Kasper, he had been quality all week and his performance at the festival was exceptional. I had to chase after him as he was leaving school to walk home but I managed to give me my shirt and tell him how good he was! The look on his face, wow.
I also had a Man United kit to give away that was given to me by my mum and dad to give away to someone special. That honour went to Mzamo, all week he was excellent. An excellent leader, he organised his peers and his students superbly. I gave him the kit and immediately it was greeted with a massive hug and a few tears. What a boy, the bottom lip was wobbling a bit! Lots of gifts, smiles and waves as our time at Mnyakanya came to an end. An amazing four days, competed by an amazing day. What an experience so much to take away, learn from and grow from. It has changed my thinking on a lot of things.
A treat remained, the staff at Mnyakanya asked all of us to join them at a very special place up in the mountains.
A river close to the school has a special secret in the winter months. Winter in South Africa are cool and dry and as such the rivers retreat and this one reveals a special secret, hot springs!
We travelled on what can only be described as a road that makes a cobbled street seem like Silverstone to a special enclosure down by the river. What a view, what a place and what a way to end the day. Sat in the stone bath full of hot spring water looking at the greatest view I have ever seen in my life. The river is used in the winter as a holiday location for camping and relaxing. It also has a bush dunny for those who follow I’m a celebrity!
The drive home went pretty quickly, the pitch black did make things a little interesting! There are no street lights, so driving can be pretty hairy on the mountain roads. It also makes it interesting when livestock roams around! Let’s just say we nearly had beef for tea…
After a well earned shower and dinner, we were treated to a lesson about the southern sky by our friend Logan. It’s was the perfect way to end the perfect day. Stood outside gazing at the sky thousands of miles away from home. Simply gorgeous!
So much in one day, I think it will take time for the experience to sink in. However, the smiles, hugs and emotion will live long into the memory. It has made me determined to spread the message and make sure that we come back and help the fantastic people of Zululand to say thank you for everything they have done for me.