Ayakha Melithafa, from the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) in Khayelitsha, is one of five matric students from the class of 2020 who left Cape Town on Wednesday [January 27] on an all-expenses-paid educational adventure in Antarctica with pioneering explorer Riaan Manser and a team from Stellenbosch University.

Matrics in Antarctica (MIA), founded by Manser, is a competition open to every single matric student in South Africa from which five lucky matrics were chosen to go on an educational adventure of a lifetime to Antarctica.

They will fly out to Antarctica with the Antarctica Logistics Centre International (ALCI) and spend five days on the virtually uninhabited continent.

In order to win and secure their place on the trip, entrants were asked this question: ‘If saving nature and the environment is a world problem – how can YOU help? What can you do in your own hometown that you believe will make a positive impact on the planet and possibly Antarctica?’

The five winners, chosen from more than 3000 entries from across South Africa, are:

– Ayakha Melithafa from the Centre of Science and Technology in the Western Cape

– Thea J Earnest from Mountview Secondary School in KwaZulu Natal

– Kelby Barker from Diocesan School for Girls in Eastern Cape

– Cobus Burger from Hoërskool Duineveld in the Northern Cape

– Boiketlo Lamula from Sedaven High School in Gauteng

The matriculants and Manser, along with a group of distinguished professors from Stellenbosch University led by Professor Jonathan Jansen, left for the icy continent on Wednesday after a nine-day isolation at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town.

Once they arrive, they will partake in a variety of activities, scientific experiments, and survival lessons. They will even take the chance of setting a new Guinness World Record for the fastest 100-metre sprint on the continent.

“This is going to be a groundbreaking expedition during the five days there in terms of data gathering. These five bright kids will get an intimate, first-hand understanding of Antarctica,” Manser told the Cape Argus.

Western Cape winner Melithafa is a climate justice activist and her entry focused on her work as a spokesperson for the African Climate Alliance. In 2020 she attended the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to urge world leaders to take drastic action in addressing the climate crisis.

Next month, she will be inaugurated as a member of the Presidency’s Coordinating Committee on Climate Change. Like several learners at COSAT, she is part of Project 90 by 2030, a social and environmental justice organisation advocating for a sustainably developed and equitable low-carbon future.

She told the outlet she is excited to experience a new continent and encourage more people to get involved in the movement against the climate crisis.

“The environment is a problem bigger than ourselves and as a young generation, it is our responsibility to take it into our own hands. We need to articulate what’s happening around us and understand that it is not okay,” she said.

“We need to let the older generation know that we do see what is happening and we want to move in a different direction.”

Picture: Facebook / Matrics in Antarctica

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