Recently students from Archbishop Holgate’s School returned from another successful expedition to South Africa. Since 2004 there have been links between this Church of England school with churches and community projects in the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town; this recent visit being the seventh one undertaken by students in Year 10 during their work experience fortnight.

Over the years, seventy students have had the opportunity to engage in a visit that blends tourism with engagement with local people and participation in a variety of charitable projects. As a result of the relationships formed the school has been fortunate to be visited by a variety of people from the Diocese of Cape Town. This has included a student football team, three bishops from the diocese, a group of youth workers and two student exchanges. The school was also honoured by a visit by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in November 2012.

This year the students took thirteen extra suitcases full of donated items in addition to the large amount of things in their own luggage. This included over 800 World Book Day books, almost 100 pairs of football boots, two suitcases full of football team strips, knitted items donated by local church members, teddy bears and other cuddly toys and a huge amount of second-hand clothes for babies and children. These were donated to a variety of groups from township football teams to an AIDS orphanage, local schools, a maternity hospital, a foster home and support groups for HIV sufferers. It is estimated that the group took well over 300KG of donated items in the additional cases and in their own luggage. The task of transporting these items across London was challenging.

Throughout the two weeks the students engaged in varied tourism activities like climbing Table Mountain, a game drive and visiting Robben Island, as well as worshipping and interacting with local churches and two meetings with the Bishop of Cape Town. These activities were punctuated with the students spending five days working with Church based community projects that the school has partnered with over many years.

At the Fikelela Children’s Centre, an AIDS orphanage in Khayelitsha township, students spent two days undertaking a variety of tasks. On the first day they dismantled 26 old beds, cleaned and painted bedrooms and then assembled 26 newly donated beds. The following day they engaged in varied maintenance work; they weeded and cleared rubbish from the neglected vegetable garden and replanted it, they cleared rubbish and weeds from across the whole site, spent several hours clearing and reorganising a large storage shed and finally played with the children.

At iTheba Labantu primary school in another township the students spent a morning acting as classroom assistants; including hearing readers, helping small groups with comprehension tasks and facilitating some drama work. After lunch they cleaned walls, put up a number of new notice boards and participated in after school music and sport sessions. At a local secondary school they spent a day working with a group of special needs students and later participated in a feeding programme in a particularly impoverished informal settlement.

At Leliebloem House Children's Home the group did lots of weeding and general cleaning, and interacted with the children. At a large community centre outside Cape Town the group interacted with a project that rehabilitates former gang members and drug users. Together they cleared the local area of numerous sacks of litter and assisted project members in gardening work. This involved getting stuck into some quite heavy manual labour, which greatly impressed the locals. Over lunch the project members shared their stories of how their lives have been radically transformed, these testimonies had a big impact on the young people from York.

The students described the experience as “life changing”, “eye-opening” and something which “changed the way they looked at life”. They were greatly struck by the huge contrast between the poverty of the townships and the beautiful houses and shops in the city.

It is a real blessing to be involved in this link with the Diocese of Cape Town. We always receive a warm welcome and wonderful hospitality when we visit. It is also amazing to see the emotional and spiritual journey our young people undertake; many of them do comeback transformed. In the past we have had students decide to study international politics and childcare following their visits. One student even switched from a career in acting to instead studying medicine having been so moved by what she experienced.

Richard Nihill, School Chaplain