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.
The Lapalala Wilderness School is founded by Clive Walker and Dale Parker under the auspices of the Wilderness Trust, and 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.
Lapalala Wilderness School enjoys steady growth, with Hanneke van der Merwe as its first director. 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.
Lapalala Wilderness School expands, and the school can now accommodate 60 learners and four teachers at any one time. Environmental educators are appointed from neighbouring communities and learners experience the wonder of live interaction with wild animals, including a black rhino and a hippo hand-reared by Conita Walker.
Lapalala Wilderness School is registered as a Section 21 Company and a new Board of Directors, with John Hanks as Chairman, 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.
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.