24 January 2012
A team of South African adventurers overcame extreme weather conditions to reach the South Pole on Sunday, after a gruelling six-and-a-half day, 111-kilometre journey to raise awareness for early childhood development.
The expedition was the brainchild of Iain Buchan, chairman of Durban-based not-for-profit organisation The Unlimited Child, which promotes early childhood development by providing educational toys and caregiver training to underprivileged creches.
For the challenge, Buchan teamed up with his sons Zack and Barney, Nzuzo Mnikathi, a 19-year-old orphan from Pietermaritzburg, medical doctor Pete Berning, adventurer Sean Wisedale, and professional expedition leader Dave Pritt.
After reaching the South Pole on Sunday morning, Buchan described the final day’s exertion, writing on The Unlimited Child website: “We are at the South Pole after walking 19.5km today and everyone on the team is absolutely exhausted.
“It was a slow uphill climb that we didn’t expect. It was very tough, especially the last 4.5km. Having said that, we are all elated to be here,” Buchan wrote.
“It is the most special place on the planet. We are all so happy that we’ve finally made it. We’ve just had a chance to relax and unwind and we had a good meal at base camp.”
Youngest black man to reach the South Pole
Despite battling frostbite, Nzuzo Mnikathi fought his way to the South Pole, becoming the youngest black man to achieve the feat.
“Today has been a great day for me. Even though I really struggled, I’ve had the best day of my life skiing to the South Pole,” Mnikathi wrote.
“I started off well, but by half way I was really exhausted and I thought that I wasn’t going to make it, but the team helped me. I’ve never had this kind of experience, and I have to thank Barney, Iain, Zack, Pete and Sean Wisedale for all their help.”
The expedition marks another community outreach success for financial services provider The Unlimited. The company’s Unlimited Child programme has already reached 228 creches, 626 caregivers and 13 695 children, and continues to grow.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu became The Unlimited Child’s patron in 2011, but the organisation began three years before that, in 2008, in a move to address early childhood development in South Africa.
Importance of early childhood development
It began with a conversation between Iain Buchan and his domestic worker, Nester. When Buchan learnt that Nester’s grandchild had failed grade two, he began to ask questions of, among others, education experts, and that is when he learnt how vital development is in a child’s infant years.
With help from academics and early childhood development specialists, he launched a corporate social responsibility project in July 2008 through The Unlimited named Operation Abantwana. The pilot project included five creches in Marianhill and the Valley of 1 000 Hills in KwaZulu-Natal. Today it has evolved to become The Unlimited Child.
The organisation states on its website: “If children do not receive the correct stimulation between the age of 0 and 6, such as learning colours and shapes through educational toys, parts of their brain will wither and die.
“In South Africa, this applies to over 6-million children. If they are to have a future, urgent intervention is needed.”
The Unlimited Child aims to reach 1.25-million children throughout South Africa by 2016, “but additional funding and replication of our model is required. Only then can thousands more children enter school with ready minds and the capacity to reach their full potential”.
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