Larbert High is not the only Falkirk district school to be involved in an international project. But the number of those involved means this link-up is something extraordinary.
More than 60 kids have made the 12,000-mile round trip from Larbert to South Africa’s second largest city to assist in teaching programmes.
They’ve been helping out at Woodlands Primary School, in the impoverished Heideveld district of Cape Town, and at the GCU Soccer Academy – a youth football club which has a remarkable record of keeping local kids away from the drugs and gang violence which still plague much of the city.
The link forms Larbert High’s involvement in Global Citizenship, a world-wide project that aims to encourage young people to take an interest in global issues and effect positive changes through their own actions.
In this case, it means providing assistance to a school that does not enjoy the same advantages that many of us simply take for granted.
It’s been so successful that another group of 30 pupils – who will by then all be in S5 – will make the trip next year. Staff are also planning a return trip in which several former Woodlands pupils – who are now being sponsored through high school in Cape Town – will visit Scotland.
Larbert High rector Jon Reid believes that the link-up has benefited the entire school.
“It is heartening to know that young people care about humanity – and our link with our partners in South Africa has illustrated this beautifully,” he said.
“The impact has been felt right across the school, from those lucky enough to participate on the trips and those who have contributed and participated in other ways which are equally important.
“There’s no doubt that the pupils of Larbert High really have broadened their horizons and changed lives on another continent. It has been a pleasure to watch our young people grow and to witness the change the link has had on them.”
Larbert pupils first visited the continent in 2012, when a Duke of Edinburgh Award class spent time in Gambia.
The link-up with South Africa was established after the school’s then acting depute, Stephen McGuckin, met with a member of the Global Citizenship Link.
Principal teacher Andy Auld laid much of the groundwork when he spent a month in Cape Town earlier this year undertaking the necessary preparations before the first group of pupils arrived.
Not surprisingly, such a project is very expensive to run - and those pupils chosen by the school to make the trip need to raise around £1500 to cover costs. A regular series of fundraising activities, such as bagpacks in local supermarkets, helps meet this. Larbert High has also received financial awards from the Stirlingshire Educational Trust, and sponsorship from Carronshore-based business Scottish Fine Soaps.
Councillor Tom Coleman, chairman of the educational trust’s board of governors, said: “We support all schools in Falkirk, but we were particularly pleased to support this project as it gives a ‘double benefit’ – it makes a difference to pupils in Larbert, and in South Africa.”
That view is shared by parents as well as pupils. Moira Johnston, whose son Fraser made the trip, said: “The link is something that could never even be imagined in the days when I was at school. But after seeing the effect it has had on Fraser over the last three years, I really wish it had.
“I think it is great for the pupils at Larbert High, especially at the age they are at, to witness this completely different way of life – as it can help them decide what they want to do with their lives.
“It is heart warming to look through the pictures of the children at Woodlands, and you can see the clear happiness in their eyes at the presence of the Larbert pupils. The link to me is beneficial to both schools, as they learn a lot from each other, and it ensures that the pupils of Woodlands have a fighting chance to escape the hardship they have grown to endure.”
After working in the classroom during the school day, Larbert pupils spent many of their evenings helping coaching sessions at the GCU Soccer Academy.
Andy said: “The pupils spent six months preparing lessons they would teach when they arrived in Cape Town. After class, they would head along to the soccer academy, which does a great job providing a positive role model for Cape Town kids. The pupils are still buzzing from the trip.”
And the pupils ensured their South African counterparts were left with many reminders of their new Scottish connections, courtesy of Stenhousemuir Football Club.
The Ochilview-based club has sent over a huge number of strips so that every team within the GCU programme now play in the famous maroon jerseys.
The Warriors have also sent over a large number of boots, shin guards and goalkeeper gloves to ensure the young players have all the essential equipment which they would not normally have access to.
Stenhousemuir chairman Bill Darroch said: “We as a club are delighted to contribute to this cause and to continue our strong partnership with Larbert High School.
“It is fantastic to see pictures coming back with the young players playing in Stenhousemuir strips.
“To think we are supporting their involvement in football and allowing them to play and love the game is terrific.”
To read more about Larbert High’s links with South Africa, and pupils’ own experiences in the country, visit www.woodlands-connect.blogspot.co.uk.