It was a bitter sweet day for Bantu Hikers as we bid farewell to the the 2016 cohort that has completed their two years in the Bantu Hikers student programme. The dedication of our students is commendable and still evident even on their last day, two students ensured that they attend the event after their tests scheduled earlier on Saturday.
It is difficult to articulate the connections we have made within the two years, one of the mentees, Phakama, commented that Bantu hikers felt like a family especially when we were celebrating the organisation turning two at a picnic at Kirstenbosch last year. The safe space that was created by the professionals and students was incredible. We sat in a circle reflecting on the journey, each students progress and lessons learnt.
All our students are currently enrolled at universities. Bantu Hiker’s greatest success has been creating a connection which the students could draw from for different kinds of support. The conversations and reflections at the send off revealed a number of things. Our students are first generation university students in their families and the pressure that comes with that is immense and the journey feels lonely. Entering the gates of tertiary is entering a whole different world, the culture is different, the values are different the language is different and the way the world is perceived is different. This world is a stark contrast to their reality and the access to this “new world” changes an individual to the point where it becomes increasingly difficult to relate theses challenges with people who have not been through a similar experience. With very little, BH students have gone on to pass their first year in university with flying colours, achieving incredible results without laptops and the resources we and their peers have become accustomed to.
As we reflect on our own backgrounds as professionals and we listen to the stories shared by students, we realise that society does not celebrate our students enough, we do not affirm them enough, we do not remind them of how capable they are or support them enough to realise their potential. We are burdened and sent out into the world to be afraid to celebrate excellence in order to spare the emotions of others. This fosters a culture of not speaking up when we should, celebrating after victories, no matter how small and diminishing our dreams to conform to the status quo.
Bantu Hikers students have come out confident, taking initiative and taking charge of their future. One of the students Phiwe wanted to be in the navy, after a set back, she decided to change track and enroll for a different programme after identifying a need in her community. She is only in her first year yet she already sees herself with a masters degree, something that she had never imagined she could achieve two years ago.
If any thing, we hope that BH has occupied and opened up the minds of the young lions to find it within themselves the belief and confidence to be the best that they never imagined that they could be. We are grateful for the professionals that have met the students and found the cause worthy of their support.
It all started with one step, two years in, the students have leapt to success!