AFTER two years of planning and fundraising, 10 fifth and sixth year Douglas Academy pupils headed to Africa this summer for a month-long expedition.
They were accompanied by David Rowlands, principal teacher of geography, on the trip to Botswana and spent their first night in traditional huts in Mochudi, a small town near Gabarone, and camped for the rest of the week.
The group were introduced to some of the local teenagers who had volunteered to help in the first community project - to build the foundation for a toilet block at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary near Serowe. Villagers hope that by improving the camping area more money can be generated to help save the endangered white and black rhinos.
The students learned how to mix cement the ‘African way’ with no mixers and how to dig out and build the foundation slab. To thank them for their work they were taken on a game drive one evening to see white rhinos, giraffes and ostriches - the red sunset over classic African plains, with zebras grazing nearby, was one of the most memorable evenings of the expedition.
Then it was time for the intrepid explorers to set off for their second community project in a remote area in the north west of Botswana in the Okovango Delta, near the border with Namibia.
The pupils camped in Shakawe village to work with the ‘ToCADI Trust’ which was set up to improve lives in poor rural areas in Botswana. Again, their task was to build a toilet block for tourists - an interesting feature of their stay was the sound of nearby hippos calling throughout the night!
They also spent three days walking to villages which have no road access on the ‘cultural heritage trail’ which was set up by locals. They played football with children and chatted to them, and in the evening joined the villagers who gathered around a big fire for traditional dance with costumes, music, songs and storytelling. The San tribe is famous for its click language so hearing this was an amazing opportunity.
The villagers led the group on an expedition to their sacred Tsodilo Hills, where some of the rock art has been dated to 8000BC and is some of the earliest evidence of humans in the world.
This was followed by a safari with wild camping and a journey through the national parks of Moremi and Chobe in the north of Botswana. While watching two lions ‘sleeping’ near a lake, a kudo antelope made the almost fatal mistake of coming near for a drink so the pupils were fortunate to witness the lions in chasing mode - the kudo escaped! In addition, they got great views of leopards, elephants, hippos, honey badgers, buffalo, African wild dogs, crocodiles and African fish eagles.
After this they travelled to Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls - which were spectacular as the wet season had recently ended and the sound and raw power of the ‘smoke that thunders’ was truly awesome.
Finally, the group travelled back south to the capital city, Gabarone, to explore the city centre including the tea terrace of the Presidents Hotel – much loved by a character in one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books - Mma Ramotswe.