Five lucky matriculants will jet off to Antarctica for experience of a lifetime

Ayakha Melithafa from the Western Cape. (Photo by: Supplied)

Five lucky matriculants will be jetting off to Antarctica at the end of January, after an intense selection process for a competition they participated in.

Titled Matric in Antarctica, the competition was open to every high school in SA and entrants were asked to submit creative, thought-provoking submissions of 100 words or less on the topic: What will exploration of the Antarctic continent do to help us preserve a greener, more sustainable existence on our planet?

The winners were selected after a rigorous process, which included them undergoing an interview process with the panel, which secured a seat for them in the top five.

The five pupils are Kelby Barker from Diocesan School for girls in the Eastern Cape, Cobus Burger from Hoërskool Duineveld in the Northern Cape, Ayakha Melithafa from Centre of Science and Technology in the Western Cape, Boiketlo Lamula from Sedaven High School in Gauteng and Thea J Earnest from Mountainview Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal.

The team tasked with the selection of the winners were Riaan Manser, Fadli Wagiet from Stellenbosch University and Maryke Musson, CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. The team was led by professor in the education faculty at Stellenbosch University Jonathan Jansen, patron of Matrics in Antarctica.

“I see this process as the start of developing future leaders with an environmental ethos. So, what are we looking for in the potential leaders to take our country to a better place for all? 1. Does their passion sign through in their interview, 2. Are they committed to community development and, 3. Are they able to implement their vision,” Wagiet said.

Before leaving the country, the top five will join the team in Cape Town for their isolation period due to Covid-19 regulations and in keeping with protocols for a safe journey. While in isolation, they will attend virtual presentations to prepare them for the five-day trip and give them a taste of things to come.

“We have a really exciting, interesting, and fun experiments and observations planned before we depart and of course while being on the ice. This will include working through the Sustainable Development Goals, looking at pollution and waste management with a planned cleanup in Antarctica, calculating our carbon emissions and learning more about how our bodies adapt to cold environments. We have some inspiring speakers lined up who will join us online to chat about first aid, ice swimming and ocean rescues, all before we depart for the ice continent. We are also hoping to be the first group to use the Marine Debris as well as iNaturalists application in areas of Antarctica we are visiting for data logging,” says Musson.

They will fly out to the icy continent with Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) and embark on the experience of a lifetime on January 27.

“This is one of the most daring and exciting projects in science education I have been involved in; I do not doubt that ‘Matrics in Antarctica’ will have a huge impact on the future leadership of science education in and beyond SA,” Jansen said.

National Geographic is the official media partner for the Matrics in Antarctica initiative and will showcase this ground-breaking journey on its social media platforms. In this way, the network will enable audiences across the African continent to immerse themselves in the journey of the winning matriculants and gain a deeper understanding of the complexities and the vital role that Antarctica plays in the global ecosystem.

“Since 1888, National Geographic has ignited the explorer in all of us and brought landmark stories and achievements to audiences across the globe. Matrics in Antarctica is a natural fit to further our commitment to encouraging fascination with natural history and inspiring minds to pursue careers in science, conservation, exploration, and education. I cannot wait to see the Antarctic continent through the eyes of the candidates,” said Evert van der Veer, vice-president, Media Networks, The Walt Disney Company Africa.

by Belinda Pheto