On 13 October, 26 students from St Bernard’s Catholic High School embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Lesotho.

The three-week trip was the result of 18 months of dedicated fundraising by these students and their families, who succeeded in raising over £50,000 for the expedition.

With the monies raised, St Bernard’s were able to travel back to the community of Ribaneng, where older students had previously visited in 2012 and installed a piped water facility within the school grounds. This return journey had a new focus, as both the inside and outside of the entire school building needed a good clean and then painting.  This was no easy task, as the conditions of the walls were not ideal; smoke from the cookers had scorched the walls and this in itself took many hours to clean.

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Staff and students from St Bernard’s and Ribaneng High Schools

In order to enable the Ribaneng school to become more self-sufficient, the team also created several ‘keyhole gardens’, which hopefully will grow vegetables for the community. The digging was a tough process for the students, as a drought had hit Lesotho. The soil was bone dry and there was no piped water available.  This tested everyone involved in the project, as digging was extremely difficult and water had to be carried in buckets from a well far away.  These testing conditions, sadly, are what the Ribaneng schoolchildren are used to; the St Bernard’s students quickly adapted, however, and cheerfully worked hard alongside their new Lesotho friends.  The locals taught them how to ‘sing as they worked’.  By the end of the visit, songs were being learnt by both groups of students and shared by singing them together.

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Mgr John Ryan presents the Headteacher of Ribaneng High School with a Papal Blessing

The people of Ribaneng expressed their utter joy at the gifts St Bernard’s and its Learning Community gave them at Mass on the Sunday during the visit. The Mass itself is always celebrated there with the most wonderful singing and dancing anyway; this Mass was no exception.  The celebration of the ‘Gloria’ was a sight to behold; visitors from St Bernard’s were lucky to witness this uplifting display of praise and couldn’t help but join in!

The expedition began and ended with tours of various parts of South Africa, including Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela had been incarcerated. This enriched the students’ understanding of the history of South Africa and also explained the political situation regarding Lesotho, an independent, ‘landlocked’ country within South Africa.  This helped students to understand why they were witnessing some of the cruellest extremes of wealth and also how they could then continue to help some of their poorest global neighbours in the best possible way.