SHE was told to jump in the lake, even though it was freezing cold, she complied, and now feels empowered and richer for the cool experience.
Making a splash on the continent of Antarctica, where she also got schooled on the hazards of global warming, is the recent exploit of go-getter teenager Thea Juanita Earnest.
Earnest, 18, and four other matric pupils from the Class of 2020, earned the opportunity to visit the continent nicknamed,“On the Ice” for the purpose of firing-up their fight against global warming.
Riaan Manser, an internationally recognised explorer, conjured the idea and made the five-day expedition, Matrics in Antarctica, possible, with backing from some of his corporate connections.
After sifting through thousands of entries, Manser and his fellow adjudicators settled on five candidates who they felt would use the experience to champion the cause of global warming awareness in their respective circles.
Earnest, who lives in Verulam, has always been passionate about the environment and conservation matters.
She was encouraged to apply for Matrics in Antarctica by a teacher at her former school, Mountview Secondary.
At the time, she had just finished her matric trial exams and thought it was a nice way to unwind with something that interested her.
As part of her application, Earnest wrote about why saving the environment was important.
Early in December, she learnt her entry made the top 100.
“I forgot about my entry but was blown away when I got the news.”
She aced the elimination rounds, with the last being an in depth Q&A session with Manser and his panel.
Earnest explained that Manser was looking for five candidates who were genuinely concerned about global warming. “He didn’t want conversationalists, he wanted people of action,” said Earnest.
Once there, she was in awe of Antarctica’s “pristine, peaceful and serene” nature, which has been largely untouched by human hands.
“It bears testimony to the beauty of God’s creation.”
But Earnest is aware that global warming has affected the continent.
More mountain ranges were visible than usual, even though it’s presently summer in Antarctica; their summer temperatures were higher than normal, -3 degrees celsius weather is what Earnest and the others experienced for most of their stay.
Another tell-tale global warming impact was the varying texture of the ice, she noticed.
It’s the pollution generated around the world that is impacting the Antarctic, she explained.
Much of her visit entailed field trips, which necessitated camping and hiking. This was a culture shock for Earnest, who was not familiar with such outdoor activities.
But she was not prepared to be snowed-under by the challenge.
Earnest drew from her reservoirs of courage and kept pace with the others through all the tricky terrain they encountered, up and down mountains.
“I felt bad when I lagged behind, but Manser and the other adult guides were supportive and understanding. With each day of hiking, I got better.
“It gave me a better understanding of human resolve and the tenacity we possess. Besides, it was a lovely and intimate way to get to know the continent better.”
Other stand-out experiences was the 45 minute internal flight to see more mountain scenery, the continental ice shelf and she got a taste of Antarctica’s tempestuous weather too.
Diving headlong into a lake, then into a sauna, and taking a Russian ice-bath were some of her other memorable moments.
Earnest had “fallen in love with Antarctica” and was sad to leave but now that she’s back home, she is exploring ways for Verulam to “go green”.
“I have been emailing, phoning and messaging people about green initiatives for Verulam.
“Sometimes people say you are 18 and you don’t know much, especially about how the world works… but I have learnt how to be resilient, adapt and that only hard work will bring changes in my community.”
Finding alternatives to plastic shopping bags used at local supermarkets is her priority presently.
“I’m starting with one shop at a time,” she said.
To get green awareness going, especially among youngsters, is another of her key objectives.
Earnest is well skilled in voicing her point of view.
During her school days she earned a reputation of being an outstanding debater, and won many accolades with her school debating team.
The pinnacle of their success was winning the inaugural Nelson Mandela Debating Challenge in 2018.
Earnest described that win as a “mind blowing experience” after progressing through various “emotionally draining” rounds of competition.
The achievement entitled her team to attend the annual lecture hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which had Barack Obama delivering the talk.
She also attended a dinner for special guests afterwards, where she had a close interaction with Obama.
The next day she attended the Marie Claire Power Summit and was the youngest person involved in their panel discussion.
For now, she eagerly awaits the matric results release, next week.
“I gave it my best and I’m confident I will achieve results that will please my parents who have been key to all my achievements.”
Earnest plans to study geospatial science and has received provisional acceptance from Wits University.
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