Matric Wild Nights Out – Connecting Young People with Nature
Text by: Jess Tyrrell
Photos by: Clare Louise Thomas
We all need places of natural wonder for our well-being.
Many young South Africans spend little time in natural spaces, not because there are not many locations for that essential interaction, but rather due to a lack of access. The result is that we live in a country where the majority of young people have little or no meaningful experiences in nature and therefore no connection to the natural world. This is expressed in apathy for the environment in general and conservation efforts in particular. As a society we are finally becoming aware that time out-of-doors is beneficial for us as human beings on every level – physical, mental, spiritual and social; but increasingly we can make the important connection that time out-of-doors is as critical for the well-being of the environment, precisely because a bond first needs to be formed in order to evoke care, that then materializes as conservation actions.
That’s where the The Matric Wild Nights Out programme comes in. It is a funded program for matric students created and coordinated by wilderness guide Jess Tyrrell, joined now by Clare Louise Thomas. It provides school leavers, at a pivotal and transitional time in their lives, with space for deep questioning and time to experience the wonder of nature. Matrics start the application process for this wilderness immersion programme by writing a motivational letter. 16 scholarships are made available that allow these young people to go into the Cederberg Mountains after their final exams are written – walking into the unknown of the mountains for a week, a apt metaphor for this next stage of their lives – and go through a journey where they connect to themselves, to others, and to nature in a transformative and inspiring way.
This experience helps young people from very different backgrounds to break down boundaries between racial stereotypes and facilitates deep connection and conversation. The process fosters a personal sense of intrinsic self worth and a real appreciation of diversity. It provides a vital opportunity to connect to nature through spending time in a wilderness area and creates a bond with nature that instills an ethic of stewardship and care.
CapeNature has been the most amazing partner on this project by providing access to the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Permit costs are one of the many reasons that young people do not get to experience the beauty of the Cape mountains, and thanks to CapeNature this project has been able to use the money otherwise budgeted for permits, to invite a matriculant from the previous year’s project to join the group as a peer-mentor and volunteer, and to learn about facilitating nature-connective practices. Wild Nights Out as a programme builds confidence and self-reliance, forges an environmental relationship and social relationships that re-inform participants’ environmental values, their sense of self, personal direction in life, and their views of the wider world they are about to enter as emerging young adults. These constructive values are taken out into society and ripple out to create positive change.
We’d like to take a moment to thank the Rim of Africa Trust who funded the entire program for 2019. Every year we need to fundraise in order to be able to get young people out into the mountains and have this opportunity. If you or your organization would like to be one of the amazing partners/funders on this project, please do get in touch. We’d love to chat and see what’s possible. We’d also like to give a shout out to our other gear sponsors: Adventure Inc, Pride of Table Mountain and friends and family that donated gear they no longer were using.
And specifically, CapeNature – thank you for supporting this project and contributing to a brighter future with youth that care for and treasure our wilderness spaces. These are the places we can feel wild and free and close to our natural world, remembering who we are and carrying that forward in the choices we make. We thank you for being a part of the solution. Together we are stronger.
Matriculants wishing to apply for the 2020 Wilderness Excursion can also find all the info they need on the site: www.wildnightsout.co.za
Want to get involved? This project is run on funding and other support of gear and services which allows school leavers from all walks of life to attend. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to offer support either financially or with hiking gear you no longer need: firstname.lastname@example.org