When Jaytee Makhubele (15) walks onto the stage at Zivuko Secondary School, she can’t hide her joy. A conscientious student, she’s used to doing well, but this Friday morning’s assembly is special. It’s not her academic talents that are being recognised, but rather, her skill as a photographer.
In 2019, Jaytee was selected to participate in a unique educational programme hosted by Selati Game Reserve called Bush Buddies. Her prize of an Olympus camera sponsored by Wild Shots Outreach is the culmination of what she describes as “a life-changing experience.”
“Thanks to Bush Buddies, I am more aware now of the species we are losing and how our lifestyles affect the wild,” she says. “I really learned that taking care of the wild is about taking care of ourselves,” she says.
The Bush Buddies’ programme is different to other youth conservation projects in the area in that it brings kids from diverse backgrounds together to learn about conservation – and each other – through a series of wilderness weekends. It pairs learners from Penryn College in Nelspruit (also the home of Penreach, one of Africa’s largest education outreach initiatives) with learners from Zivuko Secondary School in Limpopo, creating connections between young people that may not otherwise exist. The weekends are sponsored by the Selati Wilderness Foundation NPC.
“We are so blessed. We’ve been part of Bush Buddies for the last several years, and it just keeps getting better,” says Zivuko’s Headmaster Luke Mokoena. His school has a reputation for motivating learners and staff to do well, no matter what the odds. “We are a school that values excellence, and these kinds of initiatives are part of why our learners are successful,” he says.
Bush Buddies’ weekends take place in the 27 000 hectare Selati Game Reserve close to Kruger and are a highlight for the youngsters selected to participate. The reserve is home to over 50 different species of mammals, including elephants, sable antelopes, lions, leopards and cheetahs. As well as seeing amazing wildlife, the learners are introduced to bushcraft basics like identifying and tracking animals, as well as how to assess river health, map the heavens and even dissect an animal.