Nine Providence Day students recently helped save two pilot whales during a trip to South Africa.
The students, who were in the African country on a service learning trip, happened upon 19 beached pilot whales one morning last week.
“We were getting ready to go to the market to shop and we noticed a big commotion down on the beach,” 11th-grader Taylor Dowell said. “We went down to get some information.”
As they stood backtourists descended on the beach to bring water to the whales, somebody asked the students if they could help.
“We immediately started stripping off our shoes and rolling up our pants and running down to the water with buckets,” Dowell said. “Running back and forth between the whales and the waves to keep these beautiful creatures alive was definitely a highlight.”
The students had originally planned to use the morning to go shopping in a nearby marketplace. Instead, the group of students said they’d rather help the whales.
“I was extremely proud,” said English teacher Nadia Johnson, who was a Study Tour leader. “This was definitely student led. No teacher had to say, ‘Maybe we should do this.’ This was completely the students’ idea.”
After nearly four hours, the students watched as five whales were released into the water. The rest died or were euthanized.
Although three ended up re-beaching themselves, two stayed out at sea, the students said.
“My whale that I worked with the whole time, was one of the five that was saved,” said 11th-grader Ansley Calandra. “That was so rewarding for me to be able to see all of my hard work go into something that mattered.” The rescue effort wasn’t the only altruistic work the students did while visiting South Africa.
The group traveled to South Africa for a service learning experience organized by the school’s Global Education office. Those students and six faculty members visited Johannesburg, Pilanesberg Cape Town and Robben Island at the end of March.
They also volunteered at Red Hill Preschool, which is in Red Hill Township, an informal settlement of about 1,500 displaced Africans and refugees living in poverty.
The preschool has about 30 students between the ages of 2 and 6.
While at Red Hill, the group had projects, including digging irrigation trenches to support a school garden and teaching the students about the basics of good nutrition and personal hygiene as a way to help prevent sickness.
The group also raised money before their trip to purchase and install two sinks at the school.
“To see their faces light up to see running water and to teach them how to wash their hands and clean up after themselves and knowing it will have a lasting impact on their lives – it’s a wonderful feeling,” said Calandra.
Many of the students said the trip left a mark on them. From seeing what it’s like to have nothing to helping a group of beached whales make it back to the ocean, the students said they’re grateful for the experience.
“It’s been amazing seeing a different side than what you see in America,” said 11th-grader Nicole McEwen. “It’s so interested to see how little they have but that’s not even what they think about. The people here are so motivating and uplifting.”
Arriero: 704-804-2637; On Twitter: @earriero
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