Phil's Notebook: Reflections from our Founder & President

October 2018

 Vochelli Lerato and her new baby

Vochelli Lerato and her new baby

I had the pleasure of being in Johannesburg for a week before our current camp session (the 82nd!).  I attended a Board of Directors meeting for our sister organization in South Africa, (Camp Sizanani Life Skills) and also led a meeting of our South African counselor staff.

Both meetings went well. The Board is fully engaged and encouraging the office's accreditation efforts. Having an understanding of the detail and volume of compliance issues makes them realize what a great job our Country Director, Mpumi Maesela, and the office staff are doing in addition to their operating the camp and club programs. We hope the process will conclude soon with happy results.  

Like the peasant who complained about the size of his home and getting advice from his counselor to keep move one more animal into the house each day, we hope that the staff will feel as though they are on holiday when they "just" have camp and clubs to administer.

The meeting with our South African counselor staff, whom we call “vochellis,” was designed to explain to them the requirements we face with accreditation and that certain requirements, such as proof of residency, their ID card, etc., were not being imposed by the office but were required by funders we are hoping will sponsor our program. As with any new structure or expectations, we’re all adjusting and trying to understand what is needed…but the vochellis asked good questions and were eager to make the necessary adjustments for the good of Camp Sizanani.

I took advantage of having time between meetings to connect with Vochelli Lerato, who had a baby last year and who hasn't been at camp since. I also visited Vochelli Nathabiseng, an arts and crafts counselor, who has been teaching and pursuing her career in the arts. 

I also made a longer than usual shopping expedition to the African Market at Rosebank Mall as well as to street vendors to replenish the jewelry we sell at the Lake Anne Farmers Market in Reston on Saturdays from May through November. Our volunteers this year, Susan Jones and Lisa Jansons Gray, have done a terrific job at the market this year, and I was happy to follow their shopping list. My only foray into spontaneity at the market were two large animals, one elephant and one rhino, with multi-colored beads over a wire frame. They are car-stopping-and-turning-around spectacular and that's just what I did. I passed the display on the street while driving and went and bargained with them on the spot. We’re planning to put those two special items in the silent auction at our New York event this October 24th. I hope many of you will come and see them in person!

 Vochelli Nthabiseng and her family

Vochelli Nthabiseng and her family

 The African Market at Rosebank

The African Market at Rosebank

Youth Clubs Helped Me Achieve My Dreams

by Khuselwa Wedama, former Youth Club Camper

I joined Camp Sizanani in 2007. At first, I thought that the vochellis [camp counselors] were just scaring us about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but after 8 months at the Youth Club near where I stay, I went to the camp and that’s where I got to see pictures of how STIs affect people’s health. When I saw the pictures, I decided to keep attending the youth club because I needed to learn more about life.  I had also made new friends from Soweto during the camp, so my mind was made up.


When we returned from the camp, we were given career guidance during youth club meetings. There was a lot that I had not taken into consideration before. I learned about choosing the right subjects at school in preparation for my future career, the grades that I needed to achieve to get a bursary [tuition assistance] for tertiary education and the different learnerships [scholarships] available for young people. I found this information very useful and invited my friends from school to join the Youth Club.  My friends  joined the club, and we used everything we had learned from Camp Sizanani to pass our matric exams [final exams before graduating].

My friends and I made sure that we passed our matric exams before having babies. At Camp Sizanani we were taught that in life, nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. We learned that that "books come before boys because boys before books bring babies." I passed my matric exams with 2 distinctions and 4 Exemptions. After graducation, I enrolled into the University of South Africa (UNISA) for a degree in teaching. My first year was good, I passed with 3 distinctions and 2 exemptions. Then I got pregnant.

I was scared because the vochellis had taught me that even after having sex once, there is a chance of getting pregnant. I was also angry at myself for being careless, but it was also a relief to know that I was not infected with HIV or STIs. I then remembered Vochelli Sizakele telling us that everyone mistakes, but we can learn from them. Making a wrong choice in life doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You can always change the way you do things. So, I decided not to drop out of University.  I had the right to education and it was my responsibility to take care of my baby.  

I kept all the valuable lessons I had learned at Camp Sizanani and Youth Clubs while studying at UNISA. I graduated in 2017 and am now working as a qualified teacher because of Camp Sizanan's programsi. I wish Camp Sizanani and Youth Clubs could expand to the rest of South Africa.  Many children and young people in the country are not exposed to opportunities and educational programs like Sizanani.

I would like to thank all the vochellis, especially those from Poortjie (where I stayed as a teenager) and of course, Phil for founding Camp Sizanani. You have touched so many lives out there, all my friends from the Poortjie Youth Clubs are now working. Even though we no longer live in Poortjie, we still use what you taught us during our teenage years at Camp Sizanani.

Lebo's Story

My name is Lebogang Mashapa. I live in Meadowlands, Soweto. I was a camper at Camp Sizanani in 2006, when I was 16 years old.

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I come from a really bad situation/family. Before I came here I was smoking dagga (marijuana), I was smoking cigarettes. I was with these naughty gangsters, and I was the leader of the gangsters. My friends believed in me so much. When we (my friends and I) came to camp, we came with that mentality, that these vochellis will not tell us anything. That we’re going to be the boss here.

When I got to camp, the atmosphere was different. The first day I wanted to go home. The second day, I was making sure that each and every activity, I would interrupt. And then Vochelli Thulani talked to me and told me how special I am, how smart I am. For the first time in my life, I felt appreciated. I felt like a human being. And that’s where I changed as a whole. When I went home, I wanted to implement all of the things that I learned here.

One of the things that I won’t forget about camp is that they gave me an opportunity; they gave me the privilege to be a child. I’d never had the opportunity to be a child. I never played like other boys did. I worked. So playing was something new for me.

When I went back home, I was attending Saturday Kids’ Clubs (weekly meetings for Camp Sizanani children, sponsored by Global Camps Africa and HIVSA). And the vochelis, they were giving me ongoing support. I started one day not smoking, two days not smoking. Each and every time, when I was doing the wrong thing, I could hear Vochelli Thulani talking to me. Whenever I did something wrong, I would remember the word Sizanani. I would remember all the motivations they gave us there.

Before Camp Sizanani, one thing that I’d never had in my life was knowing that I’m special, that I can make it in life. I’d never, ever had that in my life. For the first time, at Sizanani, I had it. So many people believed in me. Everyone who was here was believing in me. And I asked myself the question: Why can’t I believe in myself? That’s where self confidence was built within me. I want to thank Camp Sizanani for building the Lebogang that I am today.

Walking away from being a gangster
It was difficult to walk away, because I didn’t want to seem weak in front of my peers. I wanted to seem strong. When you do wrong things, that’s when people want to be your friend. That’s how it is. But then I decided to do right things. It’s hard to do right things. But I decided to do them. Some of my friends, they couldn’t be my friends anymore. Some of them decided to change with me, and that’s a good thing.

At the same time, I am still trying to change those that couldn’t change. But it’s hard, it’s very hard. Sometimes I blame myself, that my friend Siyabonga is like this because of me. Siyabonga was a good boy, and then when I came I corrupted his life and now he can’t change. So sometimes I have that regret. But then the most important thing now is that I’m trying so hard. Whenever I’m leading a group of people, I am leading them in a positive way. I’ve learned a lot about leadership.

Being a vochelli (Sizanani camp counselor)
I’ve been a vochelli for six years. Being a vocheli is not about the status or the position. It’s beyond that. When I’m with my campers, I’m becoming a leader. I don’t say, “Hey camper, do this.” I say, “Let’s do this.” I try to be on the same level with them and make them feel appreciated, make them feel loved, make them feel special.

I’ve had children at camp who were abused really, really bad. I had one camper…He once told me he was stabbed. His situation was more or less like mine. He was a gangster. I helped the kid to get out of that situation. I visited him after camp. I attended Kids’ Clubs with him. And now there is a change. He is working with us now, he is volunteering with us.

In 2008, I opened an organization called LIGP. LIGP means Lebo’s Indigenous Games Project. I wanted to give back to the community. I’m not doing it for money. I’m doing it to help other children. I was helped a lot at Camp Sizanani…I thought it’s time I make a difference to these campers, to these kids. I want to burn the past and build the present.

At LIGP, we are doing more or less the same things that are done here (at Camp Sizanani). We have adventure, we have arts and crafts, we have theatre. I’ve introduced a new activity, health and safety. We have fashion, where kids can express themselves by designing t-shirts, shorts, and all that. We do this with the kids after school, from half-past four to six o’clock. We start with homework, and after homework we do activities.

I have 16 volunteers. We’re doing it for free. Phil (from Global Camps Africa) is helping us with materials. Crèches (nursery schools) and parents give us things to keep us going. We’ve registered with the Department of Social Development, and hopefully they will fund the program to keep it going. But for now people are volunteering, even though sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes they (the volunteers) come from home and they haven’t eaten. But I love the spirit they have, that they have committed themselves to the project.

Thanking Camp Sizanani
Really, Sizanani is changing lives.  If I had never come here, maybe I would have many scratches on my face today. I would have given up school. I would have been a thug. I wouldn’t believe in myself. I would have low self-esteem.

Camp Sizanani really helped me a lot. I want to thank Vocheli Thulani for helping me with my difficulties. I want to thank Vocheli Jackie, who believed so much in me, who showed me that anything is possible. I want to thank Camp Sizanani as a whole.

A Brunch to Remember

Stone Manor Inn and Foodies Step Up for GCA in Loudoun County, VA.


Stone Manor.jpg


The Stone Manor Inn, a boutique bed and breakfast in Lovettsville, VA, teamed up April 15th with generous restaurants and winemakers in Loudoun County, Virginia to launch “Global Taste,” a stellar brunch that attracted friends, old and new, of Global Camps Africa to eat, drink, and be caring for our kids.

Elizabeth van Houtte and Spencer Ault, the owners of Stone Manor, got very interested in GCA last year by attending our 2017 gala with Peter Yarrow at Arena Stage.  Beth and Spencer left that gala and told us, “We want to host something for Global Camps’ kids.” They weren’t kidding – the brunch they put on in their lovely country setting was truly something.

Spencer and Beth set a beautiful venue, with sparkling tables and sparkling wines.  Louise Lynn of Louise Lynn Floral Design donated eye-catching, peach-themed flower arrangements that lit up the tables.  And we thank these wonderful vendors for attracting our paying guests with their magnificent food and drink:

Crushed Cellars and Hiddencroft Vineyards in Loudoun County for their award-winning wines

Thaiverse Restaurant in Lovettsville, VA for Thai dumplings and Massaman beef curry

Trungo’s Restaurant in Leesburg, VA for pulled pork, cole slaw, and mac and cheese

West End Wine Bar & Pub in Purcellville, VA for Charcuterie and a vegetable platter

It’s A Piece of Cake, Loudoun County, VA for Lemon Cupcakes and Chocolate Truffles

Great Harvest Bread Co., Herndon, VA for its fresh breads

Stone Manor itself for Bacon-wrapped dates, East Ender Pie, Potato & Quinoa Florentine, Spencer’s incomparable scones, and Asparagus & Tomato Egg Savory

We recommend patronizing these wonderfully generous vendors.  We can’t thank them and Stone Manor Inn enough for their donations and their passion for our kids.  And big thanks to the over 40 people who contributed to GCA by attending and eating truffles and cupcakes!


David Miller to Join Global Camps Africa's Board of Directors

 David Miller with Camp Sizanani Director, Kabelo Malefane, in South Africa

David Miller with Camp Sizanani Director, Kabelo Malefane, in South Africa

Reston, VA. -February 8, 2018  Global Camps Africa (GCA), a non-profit organization based in Reston, has added David Miller to its Board of Directors.  For the past 20 years, David and his  wife, Allison have been the Owners/Directors of Camp Starlight, a private summer camp located in Starlight, Pennsylvania. David truly believes that camp friends are forever and the opportunity to change and impact the lives of campers and counselors is a lifelong dream.  Global Camps Africa uses camp programs to equip South Africa’s vulnerable youth with the tools to lead healthy, empowered lives and make positive impacts on their communities.

David with his daughter, Hayley, who also works at Camp Starlight,  volunteered as a counselor at Camp Sizanani in 2017.  GCA’s President and Founder, Philip Lilienthal, recalls, “David came to camp and instinctively knew what was needed. He is an experienced camp director and knew he wanted to bring his talents to South Africa.”

David says, “The experience of volunteering with my daughter, as a Vochelli at Camp Sizanani in March of 2017 was life-changing.”  After David returned to the US, he wanted to continue to assist Camp Sizanani’s South African camp director, Kabelo, in honing his skills.  David paid for Kabelo to come to the US and visit Camp Starlight and two others American camps, where Kabelo gained experience and knowledge that help him at Camp Sizanani in South Africa.

David is a respected member of a Wayne County Camp Alliance (PA) camp directors group and is a frequent presenter at the Tri-State Camp Conference. He will be joining 13 other Board Members in furthering Global Camps Africa mission to help at-risk children.

About Global Camps Africa

Since 2003, GCA has changed the lives of over 8,500 orphans and vulnerable children through the power of camp.  Camp Sizanani, GCA’s flagship program in South Africa,  provides a safe space for interactive and experiential learning, reflection, and skills-acquisition in a joyful setting. Some examples include:

  • HIV/AIDS Prevention: Safe sex, reproductive rights, safe relationships, testing opportunities and referrals to partner agencies.

  • Self-sufficiency: Financial literacy, entrepreneurship, microfinance, and live-market field test days for alumni and youth-club participants.

  • Healthy Habits: Learning to swim, understanding nutrition, exercise and yoga/meditation practices.


For more information, please contact Emily Crowder (