Thea Earnest is one of five South African matrics to win an exploration in the Antarctic.
Thea Earnest is one of five South African matrics to win an exploration in the Antarctic.

Verulam teen heads to Antarctica

By Keagan Mitchell Time of article published Jan 16, 2021

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Durban - Verulam matric pupil Thea Earnest will experience an opportunity of a lifetime this month, joining an expedition to Antarctica with top South African scientists.

Earnest was among five pupils congratulated by deputy minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhaule, this week after they won a competition to go on the expedition.

Earnest, from Mountainview Secondary School is joined by Kelby Barker from Diocesan School for girls in the Eastern Cape, Cobus Burger from Hoërskool Duineveld in the Northern Cape, Ayakha Melithafa from the Centre of Science and Technology in the the Western Cape and Boiketlo Lamula from Sedaven High School in Gauteng.

Pupils had to submit a short motivation on how they can be a positive environmental change agent. Thousands of applications were worked through to select a top 100, followed by a top 50 and then a top 10. Interviews were held with the top 10 after which the top five were selected.

They will fly out to the icy continent with Antarctic Logistics Centre International on January 27.

An environmental and community activist, Earnest has been involved in planting vegetable gardens and other outreach projects and is a keen debater. She hopes what she learns in Antarctica will help her in her studies in the geospatial sciences.

“After doing a lot of reading, I realised that global warming, although it may be perpetuated in places like America on a larger scale, affects continents like Africa greatly. That’s when I realised that small changes to how you live can contribute greatly to how we as a people are suffering because of the actions of corporates,” she said.

Ayakha Melithafa, 18, from Eerste River in Cape Town, was another pupil excited to be going to the icy continent.

“I am hoping to learn more about innovative solutions to solve our climate crisis and ways to implement them once we return to South Africa. We cannot only be part of the problem, but part of the solution,” said Melithafa.

She credits her support system for being selected.

“They truly are my backbone and encourage me every day to go after my dreams and not give up on my passion and all I could wish for. Looking after the environment is essential for life because we may destroy it now, but in the end nature wins. We may abuse it now, but when the last tree is cut down and the atmosphere deteriorates, we will be the ones that become extinct – nature will live on and thrive as we have seen in the past. So unless we want to get extinct, we should really get our priorities straight and start doing what’s right,” she said.

Meanwhile, Barker, 18, said she was honoured to have been offered this opportunity and is determined to make full use of it.

“I am hoping to gain a better understanding of climate change and the impact it is having on Antarctica. I am also hoping to learn from the distinguished team accompanying us more on how to implement ideas and projects related to climate change, so that I can come back to South Africa and effectively share the knowledge with others, with the goal of motivating others to care for the environment,” she said.

Chief executive of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, Maryke Musson, said this programme will focus on environmental education and enrichment, exploration and developing future leaders with a strong environmental ethos.

“They will have first-hand experience of the icy climate, with the ability to formulate research questions and participate in environmentally relevant investigations. They will learn about climate change and how to measure carbon emissions and calculate their own carbon footprint.

“They will come back with a much broader understanding of their impact on this world and how they can inspire their communities to work together to reduce their carbon footprint and in doing so create a better environment for all.

“They will also gain a network of supportive peers who share their passion in some way; hopefully friends and connections they can count on throughout their lives,” she said.

Pioneering explorer Riaan Manser, brainchild behind this project, said: “This is a chance that most students in matric could only have dreamed of. Now these determined and smart five pupils will be rewarded for getting through a tough selection process. They will begin 2021 by setting foot on the most incredible of continents – Antarctica.”

The Independent on Saturday

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