In early October a group of post-matric students from Treverton College spent eight days combining adventure with environmental activism by hiking, cycling and kayaking along the route of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, stopping along the way to educate rural schools about water conservation.
The Clover Lesotho Water Wise Expedition, which ran from 10 to 17 October, began with the students paddling the Katse Dam in Lesotho, then cycling and hiking through Lesotho along the Katse water pipeline into South Africa, where they followed the course of rivers to finally end at the Vaal Dam.
The expedition was made up of 14 post-matrics – eight men and six women – as well as two teachers and a support team. Treverton's post-matric programme provides 11 months of adventure and life-skills training for its students, known as "posties", in the year between the end of school and the first year of university.
"This is the best experience of my entire life," said Ross Marshall, one of the posties on the expedition. "It felt so surreal when we got to the Vaal Dam."
"Although my peers will be a year ahead of me when I get to varsity next year, I will have had more life-changing experiences than them and I'll be better equipped to handle whatever life throws at me," said Marshall. Marshall already has experience handling what is thrown at him: his name is in the Guinness Book of Records as part of a team that played basketball non-stop for 82 hours – that's three-and-a-half days.
Along the Lesotho route the students met with communities, teachers and school children, the people who are directly reliant on the river, to discuss and share ideas about water issues. The thinking was that these communities have the most influence on Lesotho's water systems, and are the most affected by bad water management.
This is Treverton's third environmental expedition, after the 2009 Tugela Water Wise Expedition and a climate change-focused outing in 2010. The posties organised the trip themselves, with the director of the post-matric programme, Athol Davies. They also developed water-awareness activities and games to share at the primary schools they visited along the way.
"The post-matric course is a life changing course which includes adventure activities, learning for life components and preparation for career entry," said Davies. "This allows students to mature, develop and learn essential skills."
An adventure in conservation
The eight-day journey began at Ha Lejone, a village on the banks of the Katse Dam, a key component of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and the second-largest dam in Africa. From there the students hiked and cycled across Lesotho, following the project's water pipeline, until they crossed into South Africa at Joel's Drift. Where the pipeline ended at the town of Clarens they again took to their kayaks, paddling and cycling the As and Wilge Rivers all the way to the Vaal Dam.
The trip was physically demanding, with the students facing long days of strenuous exercise, almost impassable mountain roads in Lesotho and daunting white-water rapids in South Africa. On one day alone they cycled for 90 kilometres before paddling a further 28.
A total of four schools were visited in Lesotho, and two in Treverton's home province of KwaZulu-Natal before the trip began, where the posties got to use their specially developed water conservation education material.
"Clean water is a rare and precious commodity in South Africa which many people take for granted," said Mikey O'Connor, one of the post-matrics. "We believe that awareness of our expedition could, in the long term, greatly benefit those living near the river by promoting the conservation of water in South Africa.
"The main objective was to provide children of the rural schools with a fun learning experience about the environment and water usage in their area. Our intention was to encourage them to take what they have learned and put it into action so that they can do their part in saving water and the environment."
Water and power
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project is massive water and hydroelectricity supply project between Lesotho and South Africa. It provides a substantial amount of water to South Africa's highly industrialised Gauteng province, as well as almost 100% of Lesotho's power supply.
The highest country in the world, Lesotho is both very mountainous and very poor, and so faces huge problems with the development of infrastructure. The water project has allowed vast improvement in this infrastructure, particularly the construction of roads, leading to better communication, accessibility and economic activity.