This summer I was lucky enough to participate in a Groton School trip to Botswana and South Africa. The trip was the culmination of two years of conversations between Groton students, Maru a Pula students from Gaborone, Botswana, and Imagine Scholars from Mpumalanga, South Africa. The trip proved to be, quite simply, incredible. After over 24 hours of travel, we arrived at the hotel in Gaborone, and, fighting jet lag, spent the evening learning names.
The next day, all 28 of the students from the three different schools got on a bus and headed to Madikwe Game Reserve, just across the border in South Africa. The bus ride was my first glimpse of something that would become a pattern over the course of the trip: even the smallest of moments could and would prove to be some of the most memorable. Mrs. Maqubela insisted that nobody sit next to anybody they already knew. By the time we had arrived at the Game Lodge the bus was loud, and it seemed as though we had known each other for longer than 24 hours. We spent only one night at the Lodge, but made the most of it by going on two game drives and embracing our jet lag by staying up late with everyone we’d just met.
After crossing the border for the third time in as many days, we were back in Gaborone. For the remainder of the week, we went to classes at the MaP school, shadowed kids on their afternoon community service sites, and visited other places of interest in the area. The final night we had a goodbye dinner that lasted hours. We broke out into impromptu dances and made the restaurant extremely loud. It was an impressive testament to how close we had all become.
The Imagine Scholar kids traveled with us to Cape Town, which was a similarly incredible experience. Whereas in Botswana we focused on experiencing the life of a normal kid our age, in Cape Town we spent our time learning more of the history and culture of South Africa as a whole. We went to the Cape of Good hope on a particularly windy day, visited a penguin sanctuary, took a cable car up Table Mountain, and went to Parliament and some botanical gardens.
However, the most meaningful experiences were those tied to the history of apartheid. During our visit to Robben Island, we were toured around the facility by a former political prisoner who had spent many years of his life in the very room we sat in, bringing a crazy intimacy to the tour. The following day we went to the District Six Museum to learn about the forced relocation of people that took place during apartheid, once again being toured by an individual who had been victim to these practices.
On one of our last days, we visited the township Langa, to see for ourselves the consequences of the relocation and discrimination, as well as to visit LEAP, a school for kids in the township. LEAP, hopefully, will become the fourth school in the partnership.
Above all though, what made this trip meaningful was the people on it, and I don’t have time to recount all the world-view changing conversations I had along the way. The Maqubelas were simply incredible. The history we were learning about was something they had experienced and participated in firsthand, and we never knew when one of them might mention something from their past that would add context to what we were learning about. I’m honored I got a chance to learn from them as much as I did. More than that, the kids that we spent every waking hour with were so open, curious, and driven that to be able to learn from them and call them friends is a privilege, too. Every one of us on the trip left with big ideas about what this partnership could become, and we’ve all continued to stay in touch. I only hope that in the chaos of Fifth Form, it all doesn’t get lost.