Trek, Somerset College’s flagship outdoor education programme, entered its 20th year on Friday November 3.
Every year, Somerset College gives its Grade 9 pupils the opportunity to learn more about life outside the classroom and away from home.
It is a 27-day adventure, covering 360km on foot, in canoes and on bicycles, traversing the varied landscape of the south western Cape.
This journey of self-discovery through mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, farmlands, eco-reserves, sand dunes and seashores starts on foot from the school in Somerset West and ends on the beach at De Hoop Nature Reserve.
Trek’s emotional culmination is the flag-raising ceremony on the beach at De Hoop Nature Reserve.
The event offers an opportunity for pupils to explore their natural surroundings, and to further their education in a journey of physical discipline, spiritual reflection and personal self-discovery.
Coming at a crucial point in adolescence, the end of the Grade 9 year, this programme teaches pupils to learn about life outside their comfort zone, a deeper understanding of themselves, how to work closely in teams, to appreciate the environment and learn important skills to cope in challenging situations.
They are given the opportunity to lead, make decisions affecting the group, and prepare meals, as well as learn camping and orienteering skills.
Electronic devices are not allowed, and are replaced with hand-written letters which are sent to friends and family – another forgotten skill of personal and creative expression that Trek reconnects to pupils.
The nature of Trek ensures that every youngster is tested physically, mentally and emotionally, but reaches their destination safely, with a new strength of spirit and memories of a life experience that will stay with them forever.
The year group is divided into single-sex groups with two accompanying adults, some of whom are teachers and others past pupils (“Old Oaks”), returning to contribute to the spirit of Trek.
The pupils’ safety is of utmost concern. Accompanying adults undergo an extensive training programme, while experienced mountain guides and river guides accompany the groups on particular stretches of the route.
A dedicated medical team is always on call, and further assistance from doctors and medical staff in towns close to the route is arranged beforehand.
As Trek continues, pupils become increasingly adept in their camping and outdoor skills, enhancing their orienteering and map reading, refining their food preparation, and taking care to keep their gear clean and one another safe.
They are also involved in community service activities during the course of their journey. The assistance and goodwill of farmers along the way also ensures the success of Trek, and forms part of the comprehensive support and protection network coordinated by the dedicated Trek organisers.
Trek is so much more than a camping trip or long hike. It is a mental, physical and emotional challenge that has changed many young lives.
Throughout history, many societies have established rites of passage as children enter their teenage years, and Somerset College sees Trek as a deeply fulfilling rite of passage.