Teenage air cadets from Tynemouth and Morpeth are preparing to embark on a life-changing expedition to South Africa.
The 13 cadets and two adult staff will spend three weeks volunteering in an impoverished community, visiting battlefields, trekking and will even have the chance to go on safari.
The five girls and eight boys aged between 15 and 18 from 346 (Tynemouth) and 404 (Morpeth) Squadrons fly out on July 28 and will spend their first week at Entabeni in northern South Africa, where they will undertake a number of community projects, including helping to renovate and paint a village school.
They will also host a school sports day and are taking out football kits to donate to the children.
Sgt Elliot Rogers, 17, from 346 (Tynemouth) squadron is one of the cadets who leapt at the chance to spend part of his summer holiday helping improve the standard of living for the disadvantaged youngsters.
He said: “It’s going to be an incredible experience – a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s also going to be a big challenge, but hopefully very rewarding too.
“Helping the kids and having the chance to see somewhere I have never been before was the big reason I wanted to go. I have always done things for charity, so travelling halfway around the world and helping make a difference to other kids’ lives, really stood out for me.”
To demonstrate their commitment and determination, the cadets have each had to raise more than £2,500 to meet the cost of the trip.
“We’ve done everything from joint bag packs with 404 Morpeth squadron to coffee mornings and a tombola to raise the money,” explained Sgt Rogers.
“We can’t thank enough all the locals and businesses who have donated money and helped us on our way.”
He and fellow 346 squadron cadet, Flight Sergeant Liam McConville, 16, who is also going to South Africa, even spent two days shovelling snow from pathways at Village Court unsupported housing for the elderly in Whitley Bay.
They didn’t ask for a reward, but when residents discovered the pair were fundraising for the trip, they gave them a donation.
Apart from fundraising for the trip – organised by Tyneside-based Mountain Energy – the 13 cadets have had to take part in a number of gruelling training exercises to mentally and physically prepare for what lays ahead.
This will include trekking with all their kit in the Drakensberg Mountains – which reach a height of 3,482m – and camping out at Entabeni, where temperatures even in winter can hit more than 25C during the day but drop to as low as minus 8C at night.
The cadets will also have to camp out on the rugged and mountainous Ithala Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, famed for its giraffe, zebra, warthogs, elephants, black and white rhino and buffalo.
There are no lions but there’s the possibility of hyena and leopards to contend with.
The group will spend two days visiting the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift on the Natal border with Zululand. Here they will meet descendants of the warriors who fought in the Zulu wars against the British and get their perspective on the great 19th century battles.
Their trip will end in the beach city of Durban on the Indian Ocean from where they will fly home.
Sgt Robson, a veterinary nurse in civilian life, said: “This is the first time we’ve mounted an expedition like this and we’re really pleased to be able to take our cadets on this life changing trip.”
“It’s going to be a fantastic experience for everyone; a chance for us all to give something back to the communities we are working with, to meet new people, see how they live and see something of South Africa as well.”
“It will hopefully also teach the cadets to respect other people’s way of life, nature and the environment.”