And then it’s over. Wham! Crash! It’s such a let-down. Now there is a good reason for that. Finishing school is – other than getting married, having children, getting divorced and dying – the most significant rite of passage Westerners experience. Possibly the most. Whether they move on to tertiary studies, get a job or take a gap year, once your little darlings have matriculated, they need to navigate a new world, with new rules and new values. And that’s why, in traditional societies, we have initiation. In a super-tiny nutshell, initiation is time away from home and family, and out of your comfort zone, that prepares you for adult life ahead, and transforms you. It’s the symbolic death of the child and the birth of the adult.
And, in the absence of formal initiation, we fill the gap with alternatives – or pseudo initiations – like the Matric Rage, which is held in Plett, Ballito and other coastal towns, and is marketed as a ‘rite of passage’. As Ronen Klugman, organiser of the Plett Rage, says: “They work hard during the year and now they are done with school and can legally drink and are entitled to a party.” Which means that, once your kids have finished school, they should be encouraged to drink in crowds of strangers with a few (also drunk) friends. But, really, the organisers assure you, it’s all very safe. Rage Festival organiser Greg Walsh last year emphasised the safety aspects, assuring concerned parents that there would be 40 medics, 250 security personnel and 50 undercover drug police on duty.
Oh, well that’s okay then!
But what are the alternatives? Locking them in a cupboard or watching them mope around the house because their friends are out raging? Actually there are some great alternatives for matriculants who want to party – but not necessarily with 20 000 other people – and want to mark the end of their school days with a meaningful – and fun – ritual. Not many, but some. We found two fabulous options: Ecotraining’s Matric Bush Programme and Rim of Africa’s Matric Chill Out.
What makes both these experiences different from the same-old-usual, been-there-did-the-shots-got-the-hangover matric rage is that they incorporate many of the classical aspects of traditional rites of passage in a fun, controlled and not excessively challenging environment. Like classic initiation, they take place in the wilderness, the ‘initiates’ are guided and kept safe by responsible mentors, they learn new skills, and – most importantly – they are exposed to an element of contained danger.
That element of danger is possibly one of the most important aspects of real initiation, as it’s the facing and overcoming of danger that marks the transformation into adulthood – this is one of the reasons teenagers engage in risk-taking behaviour. So, sleeping out in the mountains where there are snakes and storms, and Mum and Dad are far away, or walking in a Big Five reserve, are transformative experiences. Your sons and daughters will return from these events with a huge collection of amazing stories, a whole lot of new skills, more confidence, an enhanced sense of self, and maybe a tan and some scratches.
Go to the Bush
Ecotraining is an accredited field guide training organisation. They train those wonderful highly skilled khaki-clad jeep jockeys that take you on game drives in our beautiful game reserves and national parks, but they also do fun courses like birding, tracking, wildlife photography and wilderness skills as an alternative to a standard bush holiday. And now they’ve put together the perfect end-of-year programme for school leavers.
It’s five days in the bush with a bunch of mates. Under supervision, they will do game drives, walk with wildlife, learn to drive a 4×4, learn to track, learn some astronomy, and spend hours around the campfire at night, sharing a few drinks and a lot of stories.
While it’s not actively designed as a life-changing experience, spending time in Big Five territory usually has that effect on people. It takes far more courage to face an elephant on foot than it does to prove you can down-down five beers in five minutes. The Matric Bush Programme costs R 5 000 for five days.
Go to the Mountain
Rim of Africa is a non-profit organisation that runs an awesome annual guided hike through the Cape Fold Mountains from the Cederberg to the Outeniqua Mountains in the Garden Route. And, because they realise how empowering and healing time in the mountains can be, they started the Matric Chill Out two years ago. It’s five days in the mountains – sleeping under the stars, hiking (but not too strenuous), swimming in clear mountain pools, dozing in the sun or chilling in the shade. It’s not a test of endurance.
While the Chill Out is not a formal rite of passage, it does have many of the elements of one. It’s a safe space where you can take time out to figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life – or at least next year. Like classical – real – initiation, it’s in the wilderness. You ‘go to the mountains’ with a small group of contemporaries and responsible mentors. And – here is the interesting part – you experience a metaphysical ‘death’. Yes, you have to leave your cellphone behind! And for the teenagers of today that is akin to dying. Really, that’s not a joke. Being away from your cellphone for five days is ‘dying’ to your old world and your old contacts. And, chances are when you are reunited with your phone you may just reassess some of those contacts, or change what and how often you tweet.
This year will be the third Matric Chill Out and, so far, all the previous participants are still on the WhatsApp group, and they communicate regularly with their co-Chillers and with Rim of Africa staff as they plan and perfect the programme for this and following years. And, two ex-Chillers will be joining the programme as volunteers.
The programme is free, thanks to generous corporate and personal sponsors. Well, almost: there is a very small pay-it-forward fee. If you want to join in, you apply online and write a motivation. It’s not a case of first come first served, and it’s not pulling names out of a hat. The selection process takes in all kinds of factors but one of the most important is diversity – so they specifically plan for a good mix of gender, race and income status. And they really do read those motivations.
And, hey …
Both EcoTraining and Rim of Africa offer fab holiday options other than the matric special programmes.