The Maiden Factor Blog

Maiden is a Global Ambassador for the Empowerment of Girls through Education

Our Lawhill Maritime Centre visit!

By Louise Brown

Seven of us set off for the presentation at Lawhill yesterday. I drove, Greg was navigating and in the back of the minibus were MC, Vuyi, Lungi, Sarah and Lizzie, our documentary filmmaker, who was the assistant producer of the first Maiden documentary. It’s a great drive from Cape Town over the top to Simons Town. We enjoyed the huge skies, magnificent mountain ranges and white beaches on the way to our first school presentation here in South Africa.

We arrived in good time and was greeted by Faye, whom we had met at the wonderful arrival ceremony on the 5th January. The amazing Debbie Owen, Head of Lawhill, started the presentation upstairs with the other guests who had come to welcome us. They included alumni – Nqobile Khuzwayo, (who had just completed the leg from Dakar to Cape Town aboard Maiden) Anele May, Sylvino October, sponsors – Phil and Anne Wade, David Abromowitz, Mike and Mrs Melly, Thalia Hock and Lucrecia Harrison the acting principal of Simons Town School.

At Lawhill Maritime, students are provided with specialised knowledge and skills in their last three years of secondary schooling (Grades 10 to 12). The centre has, since 1995, made it possible for hundreds of young South Africans to embark on successful careers in the maritime and other industries. Their maritime studies programme is one of very few examples of a specific industry playing a role; it began as a pilot programme in 1995, and provides industry-focused education which improves the school leaver’s chances of finding employment. Since its inception, more than 1000 young South Africans have passed through the programme, many of them pursuing successful careers in the maritime industry, both ashore and at sea, while others have gone on to make their mark in other industries. The three specialised subjects offered are Maritime Economics, Nautical Science and Marine Sciences.

Because Lawhill receives no state funding, its students – the majority of whom come from financially-stressed homes – are reliant on bursaries provided by the maritime and related industries to fund their education. All of this was so impressive and we could certainly see the difference it was making to young women like Nqobile, who we so enjoyed having aboard for a month-long passage.

We heard the school bell at three o’clock and it was our turn to inspire! We followed Debbie down to the huge classroom that had been chosen for us to use. The students came in and sat down after excitedly greeting Nqobile, who was standing at the front with the other crew members. It was lovely to see the affection and admiration the young learners had for her. 

Our video presentation was well received and then Lungi gave a wonderful account of her story and how she came to be standing in front of the audience yesterday. Next up was Vuyi, she was understandably nervous about standing up in front of over 100 people, but she was very brave and literally brought the house down! Her background has been so tough; she has, against the odds, succeeded and has realised her dreams. She is an inspiration to all of us and spoke from the heart, I don’t think we could have been prouder of her. She just shone.

After this we had the pleasure of including Wasfie Albertyn from Inmarsat, in our presentation to talk about global comms and how satellites work. Inmarsat is The Maiden Factor’s communications partner. There were some great questions to both Inmarsat and the Maiden crew. I think the most interesting one for us was ‘How do satellites stay in orbit, what fuels them?’ We learnt that they have enough fuel for 20 years!

The final question was for Nqobile, who gave such a powerful speech we were in the presence of greatness. She really is a force of nature and it will only be a matter of time before the whole world knows her name.

Whilst Lizzie was interviewing teaching staff and students in the courtyard, we told the students we had the spinnaker next door. They couldn’t wait to go and put their hand prints on it having seen it on our video! I’m pretty sure it was a record number of handprints in half an hour ever – it was like an army operation and executed to perfection by all involved. Well done team!

It was suddenly 5:30 and time to leave. The school had planned a special ceremony for us: Lawhill proved that when they do something they do it with style. We walked down the open air corridor with students lining the sides clapping us out, then we turned to walk down the steps to find the choir on either side chanting and dancing as we stepped between them. The songs and dancing continued as we stood and soaked up the fabulous and emotional atmosphere of a truly beautiful South African farewell.