Well, as expected, my hopes of easy and regular wifi access have been dashed. We are staying at the Southern African Wildlife College in Mpumalanga, South Africa at the moment, and we are almost finished with the construction of one of the major aspects of our trip: building the playground at God’s Will Disabled School.
Before going into that, we had a few adventures after leaving Johannesburg. We visited the Sterkfonstein Caves, part of the Cradle of Mankind. Before entering the caves, we spent some time in a museum that had some information about how they collect and analyze fossils and remains, as well as covering the formation of the earth, the evolution of plants, animals, and people, and a good amount of detail about our own species. It was a worthwhile and enjoyable trip, and was definitely something else that South Africa can add to its long list of natural resources.
The following day, we visited the town of Cullinan, which has been incredibly important in the diamond mining industry. We actually got to go down into the Cullinan Diamon Mines, now owned by Petra. Our tour guide told us that he called diamond mining “gentleman’s mining”, and he did so for a very good reason. The tunnels were surprisingly spacious and well lit, even 763 m below the surface of the earth. He also went into a little detail concerning the workers’ conditions, their pay (around R1000-5000 per month, or roughly $150 to $750) and their benefits. Though the wages sound really low, for laborers in South Africa, it really isn’t so bad. And the perks (which included utility, food, health, and travel allowances) were definitely worth it.
The following day we took a trip down into a platinum mine, which was much shallower. But, surprisingly, the conditions were far worse. This was mainly because of the type of rock the platinum came from. Diamond is found in a large column of mineral called Kimberlite, which is formed in dead volcanoes. The mine just moves level by level down through the column, digging out the Kimberlite and removing the diamonds. Platinum mines must follow the veins of the ore horizontally, which means they must blow out roughly 2 m thick sections of rock through the earth, while supporting the rock above it with pillars. We crawled deep into the actual working areas of the platinum mine, and it was just incredible to see the conditions that people worked in! But, these guys were also well compensated, and not much will stop the developed world’s thirst for platinum.
After another long day of driving, and one pitstop at the Potholes (pictured below), we arrived in Mpumalanga, the region where we were going to build the playground at God’s Will Disabled School.
Part of the trip was devoted to building a playground designed by EPICS 151 students in the spring of 2011. The McBride students that went on the trip served as judges for the final EPICS competition in order to pick the playground designs that we felt best served the needs of a school of disabled children. The winning team joined us at the school for four days to help us construct the playground, though as with all projects, many of their designs had to be altered in order to be practical in the area! The first day of construction really turned into a day haggling at the hardware store. It turns out, purchasing about R 10000 (~$1300 USD) across multiple language barriers is a little difficult. But in the end, we got a trailer (below) loaded up with the things the playground would be made of:wood and concrete!
Heather and Trish are painting tires for the obstacle course. One of our main objectives was to liven up the school with a lot of bright color. Since it was build on a patch of dirt, and the buildings are painted in the same dirt color, the school didn’t really look much like a happy place for kids to go. In an attempt to make it more visually stimulating, we chose tastfully bright glossy colors!
The three main poles for the swing set, with the concrete bases drying. The pvc pipe on the ground was turned into a talking tube buried in the ground through which people can talk.
A “matching game” and music-making station, complete with chimes and drums.
Benches painstakingly painted by Heather in her favorite designs (which she says, “I had lots of practice drawing these…in class”)
At the moment, I don’t have any more pictures. We were generally too busy building to stop and take photos! However, we are still in contact with some of our tour guides, who regularly visit the school, so if I get more in the future, I’m sure I can upload them as an update.
At Last, The End
I am actually finishing this post from the fourth floor of Alderson Hall, back at CSM. Once we got to God’s Will Disabled School, wifi was only available for certain hours of the day. After finishing the playground, we visited Kruger National Park for two days, where we saw giraffe (my favorite animal!), elephant, and impala in hoards, along with a few buffalo, some zebra, about six rhino, and one lioness. Sadly we did not get to see an entire pride of lion, nor did we have a single good sighting of a leopard. Nonetheless, it was a fun end to a long trip.
As a whole, the trip was an experience that none of us in the McBride class will soon forget. The people we met and places we saw were absolutely unforgettable, and the values (educationally, of course) it added to our Foreign Area Study course is incalculable. We had a blast, while learning a ton, and I don’t think that any of us would trade it for anything.
I’d like to thank the professors who watched over us while we were there (Kay Godel-Gengenbach and Ron Cohen), as well as the McBride Program and the Colorado School of Mines for facilitating such an awesome experience. We, as a class, truly appreciate the opportunities we have been given.
Hopefully you have all enjoyed the blog. Wish it could have lasted longer!