uShaka hosts a record 10,000 children in one day
Way before the sun appeared over the horizon on Saturday 23 February 2013, uShaka staff and volunteers from various religious organisations were hard at work preparing for the expected arrival of 10 000 children at the facility later in the day.
uShaka Marine World is accustomed to large groups of children because the uShaka NPC Sea World Education Department hosts more than 120 000 learners every year ... but 10 000 at once was certainly a first!
The children's visit was made possible thanks to the generosity of local businessman Vivian Reddy, in celebration of his 60th birthday.
In an unsurpassed gesture of kindness, Mr Reddy decided to treat children from disadvantaged backgrounds to a day of fun and learning at uShaka Marine World. As can be imagined, planning such a huge event took months of hard work and commitment from a dedicated team, which named the initiative One Dream, 10 000 Smiles.
Children from schools, charity groups and orphanages were identified as deserving recipients. Transport was arranged, childminders screened and selected, meal packages chosen, medical staff appointed, security planned ... and so the list went on.
Day visitors to uShaka Marine World were notified of uShaka’s intention to close the park in order to maximise focus on the children.
Many heartwarming emails were received from all over South Africa, congratulating uShaka on this wonderful initiative, and most people were happy to give up their outing for the sake of the children.
As the big hand struck the half-hour at 8.30am, the first bus brimming with excited little people wearing red T-shirts, black backpacks and neon armbands entered the gates.
Quick registration was followed by breakfast on the run, and then it was time for the children to immerse themselves in the delights of a previously unknown marine wonderland.
The aquarium soon became a sea of red T-shirts, with excited children running from one exhibit to another as staff and childminders did their best to keep up.
After their aquarium visit the children headed to the dolphin stadium for some fun with the dolphins. The dolphins' anti-litter message was well received and understood before the children moved on to the Wet 'n' Wild water park for a few hours of fun on the water slides and in the pools.
All too soon their five-hour magical dream was over and they started packing up their goodies in preparation for their trip home. They headed for the buses, eyes shining with excitement and voices babbling with shared highlights.
Asked what the highlight of his day was, Senzo Cele (9), of Bonisanani Primary School, said: "It was the beautiful trees and gardens as well as the jellyfish and dolphins."
Ncebo Mthembu (6) said his favourite part was the food, followed by the sharks.
Their teacher, Iyanda Dube, explained that gardens, fast foods, marine creatures and swimming pools were all foreign to the children who had never been beyond the borders of their local neighbourhood.
What an honour it was for uShaka staff and volunteers to have been part of this amazing initiative, and for being able to make such a difference in the lives of these children.
To see more pictures of the day in our image gallery, click here.
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