AIDS trip to South Africa has changed my world

Highgate Woods pupil Cheyanna O Connor recalls a remarkable trip It is almost impossible to put into words the experience I had working in South Africa with people from my school, Highgate Woods, and 12 other students from Bishop Stopsford school in Enf

Highgate Woods pupil Cheyanna O'Connor recalls a remarkable trip

It is almost impossible to put into words the experience I had working in South Africa with people from my school, Highgate Woods, and 12 other students from Bishop Stopsford school in Enfield.

Even putting all my pictures into a 'South Africa 09' folder on my computer seemed to demean the whole trip. There's no way 200 photos can put across what I felt and what I saw.

Returning home confused me a lot. I walked into my room and it felt different, I feel different, older. When someone asks how it was, my mind becomes a blur. I don't know where to start.


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What about the lions we saw on safari and the hyenas that surrounded our campfire and which we stupidly ran away from? Or the amazing stay I had with my host family and the great times I had going out on weekends?

No, I think I should start with the main reason we were there in Durban, South Africa. The HIV AIDS epidemic is what took our group of 20 sixth form students there to work alongside the Hillcrest Aids centre charity in a local primary school in one of the poorest parts of Durban.

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We arrived at Inchanga primary school early on a Monday morning, but it wasn't the normal feeling I get waking up at home and having to reluctantly chase a W5 to get to school. Instead, we were all so ready to meet the kids, teach our lessons and get some paint on the walls to decorate the school.

We were ready to leave a positive mark in an area with a spiraling HIV epidemic. In 10 years the number of HIV and Aids related deaths in South Africa increased by 91 per cent and the UN estimates that 1,000 die of Aids there every day.

The health and safety talk on arrival at the school really hit home: 'plasters on any cuts, always have your bottle in sight and use anti-bacterial gel when necessary.' Not to mention the fact that 30 per cent of the 800 children were HIV orphans. We saw them every morning as they came early to get some breakfast (a meal I try to force down in a rush on the way to Highgate woods).

Despite all the problems these young children were having to battle every day, they were still so excited to be taught and to play games with us. We were certainly not treated like supply teachers are in this country; I admit I haven't made their job easy!

The days that we did decorating instead of teaching were just as rewarding. All of us were exhausted by the time our three weeks were up. Every single one of my muscles ached and none of us had any more energy we could give to the school. It was backbreaking work but I cannot stress how fulfilling it was. Too see the children's faces light up at the sight of giraffes and lions painted on their classroom walls made all the hard work worthwhile.

I and the 19 other students will never forget this experience. We owe it to the Hillcrest Aids Charity and Margaret Turnball, who made the trip possible.

All I can say is if you ever are offered an opportunity like this take it and run with it, because it truly is a unique experience. The trip has turned my world upside down. It has opened my eyes to a world outside of the bubble of London. That's why I want to run away - back to Africa.

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