CroppedThis past week, Selkirk High School was lucky enough to host two pupils from Umlazi, a township near Durban in South Africa. This was the work of the Journey to Change committee, a pupil run committee which exists in both Selkirk and Lasswade High School in Edinburgh. Our committee’s aims are to make strong links with Scottish pupils, and South African pupils, and to raise awareness of problems that effect young people both in Britain and South Africa.

Last year, Selkirk High School only hosted the students from Umlazi for one day, and it was such a rewarding experience, we knew we wanted to do even more this year. Luckily, we were able to host two young girls in Selkirk for a whole week.

The pupils arrived at Edinburgh Airport on Monday morning, to the sound of bagpipes and a welcome party consisting of pupils from both Lasswade and Selkirk. They were exhausted after such a long time travelling, but they were so excited to finally be in Scotland. Some pupils were being hosted at Lasswade, and two girls, Nompilo and Zanele, were coming down to Selkirk. As we left the airports, the commented on how cold it was. They had just come from the South African summer straight to the Scottish winter, so it was quite a drastic change for the girls. We arrived at Selkirk High School, and we were told how big and impressive our school looks. This seemed so strange to us, our school is one of the smaller schools of the Borders, but to them it’s so completely different to what they know and expect from a school. It really showed us how lucky we are to have the resources and equipment we have at Selkirk. The girls told us that their school, despite having far more pupils in it than Selkirk, had only two computers for the whole school.

The girls spent the week going around different classes, and sharing their experiences with pupils throughout the school. They were in Modern Studies classes across the school and discussed their lives in Umlazi and the differences between our school and theirs. It was an amazing learning experience for everyone, and pupils were really engaged with the discussion, making it a mutually beneficial experience. The girls got to experience classes from across the school, from English to Home Economics.  One class they really enjoyed was Chemistry, where they got to do a series of experimentsThey really loved doing practical classes, Home Economics was another highlight. They took away a lot of practical skills from their time in the class. They really loved Selkirk High School and were welcomed into the school by pupils. The hospitality of pupils really helped to make the experience special. The girls loved music, they loved to sing and to dance, and they loved to share that, and get everyone involved. Their teacher Sihle was an amazing musician, and he taught us songs and told us all about his life back home in Umlazi.

Nompilo and Zanele experienced more of the town and the area during the week. They were invited to join the Rotary Club of Selkirk and meet the members of the club, who helped the committee to fundraise earlier in the year. We also had a ceilidh, invited the host families, senior pupils and the Lasswade committee. The evening allowed the girls to experience Scottish culture, and they learned the dances and taught us some South African dances. It was a great evening, and one we won’t forget.

On Saturday, their final day with the committee before going up to spend a week with Lasswade, we went to Edinburgh. We met up with the Lasswade committee so we could spend some time getting to know one another, and share our experiences from the past week. We attempted to climb Arthur’s Seat, not everyone made it to the top, and showed them the views of Edinburgh. We went to National Museum and visited Edinburgh Castle. It was a brilliant day, and everyone bonded together.

We were so privileged to get to spend a week with these girls. They were so kind, confident and outgoing. They were so fun to be around, and they had so much to share. I remember Nompilo leading our school bus in a sing-a-long of the Shosholoza song. The whole committee made two great friends in them. They were gifted Leavers hoodies and school ties, which they said they would proudly be wearing even once they had left.

The week passed so quickly, and we learnt so much from one another, and it’s so difficult to put into words how rewarding the experience was. Everyone involved has grown as a result of the experience, we’ve all become more confident and we’ve made friends for life. I would like to thank everyone on the committee, both in Selkirk and Lasswade who helped to make this whole experience possible, to thank the host families, for taking in the two girls and being so generous. I would like to thank the staff and pupils of Selkirk High School who welcomed the girls, made them feel like a part of the school and who allowed them to come into classes and share and learn. I would like to thank everyone helped us fundraise, who helped contribute to the week in anyway, everyone helped us so much, from catering to performing and helping in anyway they could. A massive thanks goes to Mrs Burgon and Miss Swan, without who, the committee wouldn’t have gotten half of what we achieved done and for dedicating so much of their time, and so many lunchtimes to the committee.