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The Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust

St. Mary’s Menston raise the bar with two remarkable visits to South Africa this year

St. Mary’s have made two visits to South Africa this year involving 25 students as part of the Bambisanani Partnership.

I was so surprised to see the impact that the Bambisanani Partnership had on our young people in such a short time. The excitement in the faces of our students clearly told me that this programme is doing something in their minds. The sorrow and tears in their eyes when their UK friends left them to go home deeply touched me. This helped me fully understand how they enjoyed the programme and how quickly this programme changed their mindset and their behaviour. I wish that the Bambisanani Partnership may continue to change the lives of young people in both countries for the better.

Mr SV Ngubane,  Principal of Mnyakanya High School

St Mary's Menston South Africa Visits 2023


A group of fifteen Year 12 students and four staff, Catherine Chattoe, Charlotte Wood, Matt Harvey and David Farmer, Deputy Headteacher from St. Josephs Primary School in Pudsey, made the first visit to rural KwaZulu-Natal. The St. Mary’s student volunteers were Sean Billington, Joe Brooks, Ruby Grant, Oscar Thorning, Florence Greenhalgh, Lily Durkan, Andrew Diamond, Amy McIlroy, Carys Delahy, Freddie Falkingham, Katie Newman, Tess Yeardley, Ben Fletcher, Eleanor Rock and Louie Dooling.

The St. Mary’s team headed straight to Mnyakanya High School which was responsible for founding the Bambisanani Partnership back in 2006 with St. Mary’s. A very special relationship exists between these two schools and following a three-year break in annual visits due to Covid restrictions the team received the warmest of Zulu welcomes with a considerable amount of singing and dancing.

The St. Mary’s students, together with support from students from Eshowe High School, delivered the Bambisanani Sports Leadership Programme to 30 students from Mnyakanya. In between delivering the sports leadership programme the St. Mary's students delivered curriculum lessons including Maths, Biology, Geography and Chemistry. 

The work at Mnyakanya High School culminated with students from all three High Schools working together to plan, organise and deliver both a Sports and a Reading Festival to students of Ntolwane Primary School. 60 students enjoyed a morning of rounders, tennis and netball led by the Mnyakanya Sports Leaders. Sean Billington praised the newly qualified Sports Leaders from Mnyakanya: "We felt like proud parents watching them lead the festival, our work with the leaders had been successful and the field was full of enthusiasm."

After the morning of sport, the students were split into small groups and participated in a Reading Festival. The students enjoyed reading and discussing story books together. Literacy has been identified as a key focus area in the region.

In addition to the work at Mnyakanya High School the team brought some new ‘firsts’ for the Bambisanani Partnership. On a sunny but windy Monday morning the team travelled to rural Nkandla where they organised an Athletics Festival for 11 local primary schools. Impressive times and distances stunned the UK student leaders given that South African learners were barefooted and running on difficult terrain. The festival was such a success that it will now become an annual event with primary schools back in Yorkshire also participating in a parallel festival that will connect schools in both countries.

No St. Mary’s visit to KwaZulu-Natal would be complete without spending some time the Doremi Daycare Centre where the student volunteers worked with the kindergarten learners on sports, literacy and singing. A wonderful time was had by all with the St. Mary’s students also getting the opportunity to meet the inspirational and incomparable Mrs Popi Buthelezi who runs the centre.

The second St. Mary’s volunteer visit to South Africa involved ten Year 13 students: Rory Southern, Iggy Burrows, Charlotte Rawstron, Anna Ciesluk, Hannah Byrne, Daniel Sykes, Rebecca Shaw, Ruby Adcock, Lucy Charlton and Reya Wilks. The group began their work at the remarkable the Doremi Daycare Centre for orphans and vulnerable children. In addition to sports, reading and singing activities the group organised a Bear Hunt and Teddy Bears picnic.

They went on to spend three days at Mnyakanya High School training another group of 30 Sports Leaders. This again culminated in both Sports and Reading Festivals being provided for local primary school children. This was a wonderful success with Mnyakanya students being praised highly for their ‘exceptional leadership skills’ in delivering the festival. In a celebration event, student leaders from both countries were congratulated on their collaborative work and were encouraged to develop their leadership potential further.

A great highlight of this visit for everyone involved was another ‘first’ for the Bambisanani Partnership: a visit to Thembimfundo Special School for children with a wide range of different disabilities. The team ran the school’s first ever Sports Day for the children, which included activities such as dancing, high jump and netball. Teacher Charlotte Wood said, “It was moving, rewarding and insightful to see how positively the children responded to the various activities. The parachute games were a particular success where they joy on their faces was a sight that will never be forgotten.” 

Mr Dlamini,the Principal of Thembimfundo Special School said,

“I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The excitement, the smiling faces and participation of all our children with different life challenges in the activities conducted by Bambisanani team was amazing. This left us with a lesson that we need to improve the element of inclusivity to make all our children to be happy in the school. I’m was surprised to see that all our children understand instructions when entertainment is involved. Mr Harvey and his team taught us different strategies to deal with challenges of different learners so that all of them feel important.”

Such was the impact of the visit to Thembimfundo on all concerned that the Bambisanani Partnership charity will now work hard with the school community to develop a more permanent and sustainable link.

Speaking about both visits to South Africa, St. Mary’s teacher Matt Harvey said, “Yet again we have blown away by the amazing educational possibilities that the Bambisanani Partnership offers young people in both countries. The work of both groups of students from St. Mary’s has been superb this year. Nothing was ever too much trouble and every challenge was dealt with utter professionalism. These students really do have a good understanding of Ubuntu (‘I am because you are’) which will hopefully serve them well for the rest of their lives.”

The visits had a significant impact on students from both countries:

“I heard about this programme before I came to Mnyakanya School. Meeting the UK team was very exciting and brought a huge change of my life for the better. I liked the way they appreciated each and every one of us as young people to make us feel recognised for every effort we made. They developed a positive self-esteem for each and every individual. I will therefore take my positive self-esteem back to my school work and to all school and social activities. They were all friendly, approachable and never looked at the negative side of anything. I liked this approach and I wish to practise to be that kind of a person. I miss them a lot.” Noxolo Ngobese

“We had a precious time with the UK groups. I never thought that my interaction with them would change my life like this. Sharing our life experiences with people from another part of the world made me feel as if a new page of my life was opening. I felt important in my school and in my community as if I was a famous person. The activities that we were engaged on made us to become one group with a common understanding.” Simphiwe Mbambo

“I can’t believe I have a friend overseas. That makes me feel important. I was very proud to be recognised as an outstanding young leader. I hope that I will be a good future leader.” Bayanda, Gcaba

“Volunteering in South Africa allowed a deeper cultural experience. It has introduced me to new customs, traditions, languages and ways of life. This experience broadened my understanding of the world and challenged preconceived ideas. One of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering in South Africa was the chance to directly engage with local institutions like Mnyakanya High School and Doremi Day Care Centre. I built unforgettable relationships with a number of people and learned from their resilience and resourcefulness. Working at Doremi provided valuable opportunities for personal growth and learning. I developed patience, empathy and the ability to adapt to different situations. I learnt to prioritise the needs of others and become more compassionate and understanding, these skills extended beyond the Day Care Centre and will positively affect other areas of my life. The Bambisanani Leadership Programme is not just a one-time experience but rather a catalyst for ongoing learning and growth, it will inspire participants to continue seeking opportunities for personal growth.” Amy McIlroy

“I gained so much from the experience. My leadership skills have improved massively. My ability to overcome challenges became progressively better throughout the experience. Overall, if given the opportunity again, I would take it in a heartbeat. Hopefully in the future I will go back to south Africa as I fell in love with the country and its people.” Freddie Falkingham

“Being a part of The Bambisanani Partnership has been one of the best experiences of my life and the people I have met have taught me so much about resilience and hope.” Eleanor Rock

Mrs Pk Zondi, Bambisanani Coordinator at Mnyakanya added: 

“All the students who participated in the Bambisanani young leadership training are showing a great enthusiasm and self-confidence. They had their first experience in communicating with people from another part of the world; their horizons have changed. They show a strong willingness to practise their leadership skills. The visit of the four different UK groups in South Africa this year had a positive impact in the lives of many. The visits had a remarkable impact on the Mnyakanya students who were part of the various programme. They became very active after their training. They work closer to their teachers, showing self-confidence and willingness to initiate new programmes in the school. We as a school have a great confidence and hope to these young people. We hope that their experience in Bambisanani will change their lives forever. At Thembimfundo Special school the UK team led by Matt Harvey left the teachers and the principal of the school speechless, when they saw their challenged students, who were known to be inactive, becoming active, dancing, and showing understanding of instructions given to them. The smiles and excitement on their faces was a surprise to many. The Bambisanani team brought hope to those thought hopeless. Thembimfundo children were so excited to see themselves participating in different games, like everyone else.”

David Geldart, CEO and Founder of the partnership said, “The teachers and students from St. Marys never cease to amaze and inspire me. Their two fantastic visits have raised the bar in terms of both impact and future expectations. This is remarkable work that is educating young people from very different parts of the world that they are part of the same world. Here we see the power of sport and education bringing people together and transforming their world view. This is real education that positively changes lives.”

The Bambisanani Partnership is a unique collaboration developed by St. Mary’s Menston school in Leeds, UK and Mnyakanya High School in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Our partnership uses sport as a major catalyst to develop international understanding, education, health and leadership. Bambisanani is the Zulu word meaning 'working hand in hand'. 'Bambisanani' aptly encapsulates the philosophy of the partnership which significantly now includes the University of Leeds, Leeds Trinity University and Newcastle College as key members. The initiative, which began in 2006, has gained both national and international acclaim and is a registered charity that is run entirely by volunteers Over the past 17 years, more than 15,000 students from the UK and South Africa have participated in Bambisanani Partnership programmes and projects.


Whilst in South Africa the St. Mary’s team presented a range of Bambisanani Annual Awards at both Mnyakanya High School and Ntolwane Primary School:

Mnyakanya High School Awards

Laurie McCauley Most Improved Footballer Award: Velani Mtshali, Laurie McCauley Creative Writing Award: Athandile Gumede, Helping Others Achieve Their Potential Award: Uyabusa Mvubu, True Spirit of Sport Award: Nombulelo Shangase, Sbonelo Magwaza Outstanding Leadership Award: Bayanda Gcaba, Sportswoman of the Year Award: Seluleko Nzuza, Sportsman of the Year Award: Luthando Mngavi, Heather Read Award: Samkelisiwi Ntuli, Ntolwane Primary School, Sportswoman of the Year Award: Luyanda Magwaza, Sportsman of the Year Award: Thobani Mhlongo, Sports Leader of the Year Award: Samkelisiwi Geada

Ntolwane Primary School Awards

Sportswomen of the Year Award: Luyanda Magwaza, Sportsman of the Year Award: Thobani Mhlongo, Sports Leader of the Year Award: Samkelisiwi Geada

Mnyakanya High School Educators

Three educators from Mnyakanya School were honoured with The Bambisanani Partnership Award for their Outstanding contribution to the partnership: Mr SV Nugubane, Mrs PK Zondi and Miss Langa