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Lapalala Wilderness School History

A brief history

Lapalala Wilderness School can trace its roots back to 1981 when it consisted of three small tents and a tiny thatched kitchen area on the banks of the Palala River. From this small base the first 10 students and a field officer spent weekends exploring the 5 000 hectares of pristine wilderness which at that time was the extent of Lapalala, and discovering all the natural wonders that it held.

Despite these simple early beginnings, the school’s founders had a huge vision – to teach young people the concepts of conservation, ecology, the protection of wild creatures, wild landscapes and the natural resources of our environment. This vision remains to this day, and is embedded in everything that Lapalala Wilderness School stands for and does.

More than three decades later, Lapalala Wilderness School stands as a profound reminder of the legacy left by the visionaries who first conceived it. Tens of thousands of children, students and teachers have passed through this centre of environmental learning and been transformed.

The school itself has undergone a significant transformation over the years. Here’s a quick look at some the main milestones on its journey:

1985 – 1990

The Lapalala Wilderness School is founded by Clive and Conita Walker under the auspices of the Wilderness Trust and, with the encouragement of Dale Parker, makes its home in a restored old farmhouse close to the Palala River. This original building can accommodate 36 pupils and two teachers. Roland Jones, the first full-time teacher at the school, develops the first programme of activities. He is later joined by Barbara Williams, a qualified teacher from the UK.

1991 – 2000

Lapalala Wilderness School enjoys steady growth. More full-time teachers join the team. With considerable support from Cathay Pacific Airlines, the School becomes internationally recognised. The airline sponsors thousands of children from South East Asia, as well as disadvantaged children from across South Africa, the UK, USA and West Africa to benefit from the Lapalala Wilderness School experience.

2001 – 2005

Lapalala Wilderness School expands, and the school can now accommodate 60 learners and four teachers at any one time. Trained environmental educators are appointed from neighbouring communities and learners experience the wonder of live interaction with wild animals, including a hand-reared black rhino.

2006 – 2010

Lapalala Wilderness School is registered as a Section 21 Company, and a new Board of Directors is appointed. The school buildings undergo major reconstruction and development, with the opening of a new interpretive centre and dining room, the upgrading of all dormitories and teachers’ rooms, and the installation of solar water heaters. The environmental education activities, guided by Anthony and Erin Roberts, continue to grow and the school initiates a new outreach programme in conjunction with Eco-Schools.

2011 – 2015

The activities and programmes offered at Lapalala Wilderness School continue to grow exponentially. Tertiary level training is introduced, as is the highly successful Youth Development Programme. The community outreach initiatives continue to deliver measurable results, and providing learning opportunities to pupils from schools in local communities gains even more focus.

Under the direction and leadership of Mashudu Makhokha, the Lapalala Wilderness School enters its thirtieth year and is increasingly recognised as a centre of excellence in environmental education.

The school is now fully booked, in advance, for most of every year.