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Peterhouse Girls

D Block (Form 1) Basecamp 2021

PHG_BaseCamp21“Friendship,” said Christopher Robin, “is a very comforting thing to have” and this year, our long-anticipated Basecamp expedition exceeded everyone’s expectations for fun, challenge and, of course, bonding among the 2021 form-ones at Peterhouse girls.

The Basecamp adventure started after an intense first week at school during which the D-block girls underwent setting tests, school orientation, sports trials and learned about the diverse range of cultural pursuits available at Peterhouse. They were still finding their feet around campus after only two days in the classroom when Basecamp departure day arrived.

Just before lunch, Mrs Hough gave an entertaining and insightful lecture on what would not be needed on the long hike and camp-out, which was hilariously illustrated by her able assistant Megan, whose over-packed rucsac contained much to make us laugh, but which also brought many uneasy snickers from D-blockers who had thought of stuffing in their teddy, giant pillow, extra shoes, inappropriate clothes, extra food and unnecessary toiletries.

Afterwards, the girls trooped upstairs to their dormitory where there then followed a hasty reassessment of what was really needed for our forthcoming adventure. The experienced Tatanga prefects and Tutors helped the girls to lighten packs and judge wisely what could be left behind.

After lunch, there was just time for a quick dash to the specially opened tuckshop (thank you Mrs Kloppers) for last-minute treats before the girls all hoisted lighter, neatly repacked rucsacs on shoulders, boarded the big school bus to Peterhouse Boys to commence their walk into Dombo-dam camp in Peterhouse’s beautiful game reserve, Calderwood park. We arrived just before dusk, as the setting sun painted the tall swaying seed-heads of grass a glorious sea of salmon pink for us to walk through. I was mindful of a new beginning just dawning for these girls as they commence their Peterhouse career.

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Our first evening involved meeting the excellent team of friendly, qualified staff who were going to be our guides and teachers over the next few days, as well as setting up tents in tutor groups with girls not yet known well, but who were soon to become old friends. While the moon rose over our idyllic, dam-side camp, the fiery-necked nightjars serenaded us as we ate a delicious Introwise-provided supper and roasted marshmallows, (thoughtfully provided by expedition overseer Mr de Kock), over warm blazing fires. The ground felt a bit hard on that first night sleeping in our tents, but the excited chatter and eager anticipation rising from all around somewhat eased the discomfort.

Someone once said that “Every start on an untrodden path is a venture, which only in unusual circumstances looks sensible and likely to succeed” and after a morning of learning camp skills like how to start a fire and basic first aid, the first half of our group, tents packed and rucsacs settled snuggly on backs, set off warily on their long hike to Ruzawi camp. They walked in three intrepid Tutor-led groups, each with an instructor as their guide and support. This was new and intimidating territory for many girls, and it was not without a little trepidation that many put that first foot on the path to they knew not where, for a long walk, up hill and down dale, carrying and then cooking their own food over a fire, working together as a team before a night spent camping under the stars. Along the way, the girls enjoyed the bonhomie of traipsing together through beautiful Msasa woodland, pausing at deliciously cool dams for refreshing swims and competing with the birds as they belted out songs together as they walked. There were broken shoes, many blisters, aching muscles and tired shoulders along the way, but each team looked after their own and all made it successfully to the Ruzawi campsite well before dark, where the views over the surrounding countryside beneath the setting sun were enjoyed over a warm, freshly cooked supper and with more surprise marshmallows to sweeten the night!

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Whilst the walkers hiked their merry way to and from Ruzawi camp, the rest of the girls in Dombo-dam camp undertook four activities over the next afternoon and morning in their respective tutor groups. The first was raft-building from scratch using rope, poles and some empty barrels. Girls were first taught basic rope-tying skills and knots and together they had to plan the structure and then put it together successfully: the raft had to support the entire group on a journey across the dam and back again without falling apart! I saw innovation and teamwork bring visions to fruition and the successful paddle to the other side of the dam and back was an exultant reward.

Next girls took turns zip-lining 100m on a taught metal wire, suspended between giant rocks, high up through the Msasa canopy – a fast and wind-rushing experience, which for some was an intense pleasure and others a hurdle of fear to be overcome. Adrenalin levels were raised and after this awaited another height-challenge: abseiling down a steep-sided granite dome one at a time, ably tutored and supported by an adept team of experienced instructors. The fear many felt as they had to lean right back and then take that first step over the edge of what felt like an awful precipice, was acute, but the courage displayed by those whose hearts were in their mouths was inspiring. The intense feeling of satisfaction and relief at completing the task was palpable in the giddy chatter as the girls walked back to camp.

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Fourthly, each group had to undertake a number of problem-solving challenges as a team that involved variously moving one’s entire team over a 2m-high pole; or raising a tyre from the ground, up above a certain height on a central pole using only narrow long poles, but without touching the central pole – much harder than it sounds; then getting one’s entire team through a 3m x 2m spider’s web of rope stretched between two poles, with the caveat that each gap can only be used once and no one is allowed to touch the web. Teams first had to organise a sensible order for going through the holes and decide which gaps were to be allocated for each team member and then manifest the group trust needed to allow others hoist them horizontally through such a small gap, which required much gentle care and persuasion as well as strategic planning to succeed; lastly each group had to perform a tyre-reorganisation puzzle where tyres must be moved around a 300m course in a particular order between three stations and be replaced in a particular order at another station. Each of these tasks required brain-power, teamwork and effective, patient, communication. All activities were timed and as the teams learned to work well together they found that they managed the tasks more easily. There was great delight when one of our Tatanga teams was faster than any of the D-block boys’ teams who had tried the tyre reorganisation earlier in the week.

Groups switched over half-way through the camp so all got to experience the highs and lows and amazing opportunities afforded by both the long hike and camp-out as well as the in-camp team challenges.

The underlying goals of our Basecamp escapade can be summed up in two parts: firstly that girls would knit together as a year group, growing in both grace and understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses; and secondly, that they would develop augmented empathy, that highly vaunted skill that sets girls apart from their counterparts. Einstein noted that “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity,” and whilst the commencement of their Peterhouse on-campus career was different to normal and a few months delayed, this exacting adventure together for the form-one girls was a profound and special opportunity for building both character and friendship: a fantastic foundation upon which to embark on their six-year Peterhouse journey.

Dr Louise Hildebrand
Tatanga Housemistress


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