Ayakha Melithafa, who attended the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) in Khayelitsha is among the five pupils from across the country who won a competition – and the opportunity to go on an expedition to Antarctica with top South African scientists.
The pupils were expected to leave the country yesterday, Wednesday January 27, and were self isolating in preparation for the trip.
The pupils, who will spend a week in Antarctica, were required to write and submit a motivation on how they can become positive environmental change agents.
Out of thousands of pupils across the country who entered the competition, Ayakha, Thea Junaita Earnest, Cobus Burger, Boiketlo Lamula and Kelby Barker were announced the winners.
The 18-year-old Ayakha, who lives in Eerste River and was in Grade 12 at Cosat last year, told Vukani she was excited about the trip.
She said when her school principal informed them about the competition, she decided to enter because the kind of questions they were required to answer were related to issues she was passionate about.
Before she was announced as one of the top five, she was in the top 100 which was narrowed down to top 50 and then the top 10.
At each stage, she said, they were given tasks and questions to do and answer.
She said she was over the moon when she was informed that she was amongst the top five which had been selected to represent the country.
She said last year she attended a youth State of The Nation Address (SONA) event which President Cyril Ramaphosa attended before delivering his national address and she had posed a question about climate change.
Earlier that year she had attended the World Economic Business Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
She said it was critical that people learned about the importance of looking after the planet and environment.
“I have no words to describe how I feel about this. We need to teach our people, especially in the township, about the importance of looking after the environment.
“(As young people) we need to raise our voices about climate change. We must play active roles in our communities in protecting this planet,” she said.
She said last year in November she was appointed by the president to be part of the presidential commission on climate change, something she is incredibly excited about.
While she had planned to study law this year, she told Vukani she was thinking of taking a gap year to focus on projects she was passionate about, but the details of which she did not yet want to divulge.
COSAT school principal, Phadiela Cooper, said she was extremely excited about Ayakha’s trip – and that she was the only pupil from the province selected to participate in the expedition.
She said two pupils from the school had entered the competition but unfortunately the other pupil had been eliminated in the top 50 stage..
“This shows that pupils who attended schools in the township can compete with pupils from private schools and well off schools. To pupils who attend schools in the township, they must not doubt their abilities and self worth. Everything is possible in life,” she said.