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SAEON Ndlovu science camp experiences

The June 2014 edition of SAEON eNews featured an article on the Ndlovu Node’s science camps for learners, the flagship projects in the node's science education programme.

Read what two of the Grade 11 learners had to say about their experiences at the camps:

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Alrenda Pilusa (left) and her team collect data at the Haenertsburg plantations in 2013 (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

A learning adventure

The first time I heard about SAEON was in 2012 when was in grade 9. Lerato Malatji and I were chosen by our teacher to represent our school and learn for ourselves at the SAEON science camp. I have since found that the SAEON science camps are fun, motivational and amazing. I did not really know what nature was all about until I joined the SAEON science camp.

It was in September 2012 that I first went on a nature walk in the Kruger National Park under the watchful eyes of the game guards. It was an exciting excursion that I will cherish as long as I live. I discovered a part of me that I did not know - that I love nature very much.

In 2013, when I was in grade 10, we camped at Magoebaskloof Adventures for three days and conducted our science research projects at the Haenertsburg research site. We were divided into three groups to study grassland, forest and plantation habitats. Each group was tasked to investigate the biodiversity of the respective habitats.

At the end of the three days’ learning adventure, our scientific knowledge was deepened and our scientific skills sharpened. We were taught how to think and act like scientists. I feel like I am one even though I do not have certificates. It has opened doors for us to the world less tapped academically.

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The grazers/grass group collect data at Timbavati Foundation Bush School, 2014 (Pictures: Joe Sibiya)

This year (2014) was our third and final year in the SAEON science camp programme. We went to Timbavati Foundation Environmental School where we were given a chance to think and observe the environment like true scientists. We investigated the impact of grazers on grass at a protected area (Timbavati Nature Reserve) and unprotected area (Timbavati village), as well as soil uses at the village.

Without using modern technologies, we diligently and successfully conducted our research projects. Our scientific thinking has been strengthened. Our career choices were challenged.

We evaluated our personal skills and goals in the light of our future career choices. When I first joined the SAEON science camp programme I wanted to follow a career in mine engineering, but I know now that I would like to follow a career in environmental engineering.

The camps were not all about science. We played games like jenga, career bingo and team-building exercises (obstacles course). It afforded us an opportunity to meet new people and build new friendships.

The SAEON science camp is the best thing that has ever happened to me. During the grade 11 camp we visited the Kruger National Park again and I saw a rhino for the first time in my life. It felt so good and amazing.

We all went to the SAEON science camps wanting to gain new knowledge and skills. That has taken us one step ahead of other learners who did not participate in the programme.

By Dorian Kgetho Mashile, a grade 11 learner at Sebalamakgolo High School in Namakgale

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Exploring different land/soil uses at Timbavati village communal land (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

Investigating science careers

It was through my hard work at school that I was given the opportunity to attend the SAEON environmental science camps. In 2012, when I first attended the grade 9 science camp at the Kruger National Park I did not expect much. I had hoped to see one of the Big Five animals, especially a lion; however, I found it more fascinating and fun to learn about God’s precious, colourful and melodious little birds. The camp gave me an opportunity to connect with nature while walking in the Kruger Park and to interact with learners from different schools. And of course I gained new friends.

In 2013 we went to Magoebaskloof, where I expected to learn more about diverse environmental science careers. I am glad I got the opportunity to do so. I enjoyed working in the field, investigating and collecting data at the plantation habitat. I learnt that science is not only fascinating, but fun. Our aim was to find out whether there were life forms other than the pine trees in the plantation habitat. We found that there were other plant and animal species living in plantations, but not that many compared to the forest and grassland habitats.

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A soils group brainstorming session at Timbavati village (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

We had a secret party in my tent the night before we left. We got to know each other well and bond as brothers, sisters and friends. I learnt that life was not about learning all the time; one should also have some fun.

Our mentors had to push us to complete our projects the following day. The three groups presented their projects before we left the camping site. The presentations helped us realise that all three studied habitats are important and contribute to our environment and to our lives.

The 2014 science camp was different from the previous camps because we were more mature, motivated, focused and willing to work hard on our own as compared to the previous two years. The camp was held at the Timbavati Foundation Environmental School.

We were divided into two groups focusing on the impact of grazers on grasses and different land uses of soil respectively. I was in the soil group, which investigated the impact of land uses on soil in Timbavati village (a village adjacent to the Timbavati Nature Reserve).

We collected data and analysed it. We found out that the villagers practice monoculture and there were overgrazing and deforestation which contributed to soil erosion. We came up with ways to combat this problem, which include encouraging villagers to practice crop rotation, to own a manageable number of cattle and to plant more trees.

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Engrossed in an ecological jenga game (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

The camp was a rewarding experience. My scientific knowledge has been deepened, and my attitude and love for science and nature have shown some remarkable development.

In terms of a career choice, my focus during the past two years has been on medicine. My mom thought it would be good if I could become a nurse and my dad thought it would be nice if I could be a medical doctor. I wanted to be a pharmacist. However, since I have been exposed to environmental science programmes, hydrology has become my focus and my dream career due to the influence of the amazing mentors I have been in contact with this year. They made me realise that it is not only medicine and engineering that is important in our lives, but environmental science related careers as well.

As I conclude I would like to speak to my fellow SAEON science camp learners. Guys, we have received more than we hoped for. Let us start where we are, use what we have and do what we can to save our planet.

Life is not about getting and having, but about giving and being. So, let us give back what we have learnt from the science camps by practicing what we have learnt every day of our lives. Remember, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. The key lies within love, prayer and hard work. Nothing is impossible, even the word itself says ‘I’m --- possible.

By Alrenda Pilusa, a grade 11 learner at Matome Malatji High School in Maseke village

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“The camp gave me an opportunity to connect with nature while walking in the Kruger Park.” - Alrenda Pilusa (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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