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Epic South African Expedition – Wales ACF

24 August 2023

As the 2022/2023 school year ended, 72 cadets and 15 Adult Volunteers (CFAVs) from Wales geared up for a unique adventure. After 18 months of planning, Exercise Kwazulu Natal Draig began, involving 87 participants — the largest post-COVID overseas event by the Army Cadet Force, was made possible, with support from ACCT UK grants. The South Africa expedition encompassed three phases in distinct locations, ensuring an unforgettable experience. Their journey began at Zingela Bush Camp, along the Tugela River’s edge, where groups prepared for activities guided by experts and supported by CFAVs.

Group 1 opted for a 4-day giraffe field study, earning them the nickname ‘Giraffe Group’. Their task involved trekking a 10,000-hectare conservation area, tracking giraffe herds. They documented 58 giraffe encounters, noting locations and capturing photos to identify individuals. This aided Zingela’s conservation efforts. They also named new giraffe and unearthed a skeleton for educational display.

Group 2 embarked on a 4-day, 20-kilometre rafting journey down the Tugela River from base camp. Paddling in pairs on robust inflatable rafts, they navigated challenging rapids, each with unique names like ‘the washing machine’. They camped riverside, handling all tasks collaboratively, including camp setup, cooking, and fire maintenance. For many, this was their inaugural rafting experience, leading to personal growth and enhanced teamwork.

Group 3, known as the Zulu Trail Group, departed Zingela for a 4-day trek through a historically significant landscape, marked by Anglo-Zulu and Boer War remnants. Covering over 80 kilometres, the youth quickly learned self-sufficiency in the wild, managing camp setups and cooking. The phase also included visits to local schools, engaging with children in sports and cultural exchange, leaving a deep impact on the cadets.

“Overall, I would say that this experience was truly eye-opening and humbling. To see the lack of valuable resources that we use at home and take for granted. I really enjoyed the time spent on the trail as I feel it was a refreshing getaway from the distractions of technology back at home. This experience will last forever, I truly look forward to sharing this amazing story with new people that I meet in the future. I would like to take this opportunity to thank ACCT UK for this amazing experience.”

Cadet Corporal Aaron Rees (G&P ACF)

Following Phase 1, the teams transitioned to Elandsheim Retreat for a 3-day battlefield tour encompassing Isandlwana, the Fugitives Trail, and Rorke’s Drift. Immerse in the Anglo-Zulu war history from both angles, the cadets reflected on the battles while local guides vividly recounted events at significant sites. At Rorke’s Drift, Cadet Sergeant Alec Brown performed the Last Post during a Remembrance Act. Cadet Molly Dickinson’s spontaneous visit to the school held personal significance, as her parents were part of the team that constructed the school hall in 1994.

“The expedition advanced to Somkhanda Community Game Reserve, engaging in a Game Ranger Experience alongside Bhejane Nature Training. The cadets collaborated with a spirited team of 18-20-year-old trainee guides who served as not just guides but also mentors. Conversations on life paths, seizing opportunities, and resilience were particularly beneficial for those facing their own challenges. The program encompassed traditional safaris, foot treks in the big 5 game reserve, conservation insights, security patrols, anti-poaching efforts, and community engagement.”

“This entire trip brought out a new side of me that I never knew existed. Usually, I’m a bitter and secluded individual, but I found myself being helpful, compassionate, and charitable during this journey. I will carry that transformation with me wherever I go for the remainder of my life. Coming from a not-so-wealthy, small family, none of these experiences would have been possible without the support and funding. I hope to maintain a close working relationship with the ACF to ensure that these opportunities remain available for future cadets.”

Cadet Lance Corporal Ben Blackstone (C&G ACF)

“In the last 16 days, I have been introduced to so many different situations that I probably would never have experienced if it weren’t for this trip.
I experienced my first plane journey.
I experienced kayaking for the first time.
I experienced another country for the first time.
I learned to place myself in a new social group and learned about my capabilities in an entirely new scenario. This understanding is a significant part of gaining more social confidence, which has impacted me permanently.”

Cadet Lance Corporal Alex Thomas (D&G ACF)

“On reflection, we have to ask the question: Was this trip worth it? With several years of planning and the challenges of fundraising, paperwork, and other key aspects of preparation all preceding the actual trip, there was a considerable amount of work for a small key team of CFAVs, who are, in fact, volunteers.

However, being able to see firsthand the personal growth, development, and impact on this group of youngsters in such a short time demonstrated clearly that expeditions like this are incredibly worthwhile. The skills, experiences, opportunities, and indeed challenges encountered have visibly impacted the cadets already. We have no doubt that the lessons they have learned will continue to influence them as they face the challenges of growing into young adults in a world that will persistently throw uncertainties and obstacles in their path.

Their successes in South Africa and the understanding of what they can achieve when they put their mind to it will serve them well. They will continue to reap the benefits of this expedition for many years to come.”

Captain Dan Priddy (D&G ACF) Activity Lead

This trip was support by ACCT UK Grant. If you are looking to take part in a similar expedition and need to fund your trip, you can apply today, here.

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