In January, Camp Sizanani spread its program to the children and youth of all 9 provinces of South Africa. At the request of USAID and South African non-governmental organizations, Global Camps Africa sent 81 of its vochellis (counselors) to 7 sites around the country to engage HIV-affected young people in the transformative experience of camp.
The sites ranged from a hotel-style facility on less than one acre to beautiful tented campgrounds with nature all around, depending on the availability of accommodations in each province. The campers were all rural children, some of whom were totally unschooled and lacked even basic English language skills. In response to the request for our program all around the country, 8 of our vochellis were given new responsibilities as camp directors.
Though there were challenges at each new Camp Sizanani site, the vochellis were able to use camp activities like singing, dancing, and theater to break through cultural and language barriers. The methods they have been trained to use to express love, acceptance, and care for each camper allowed them to make connections and convey essential life skills despite the fact that the children had no previous exposure to a camp program.
Each venue's management expressed awe at the exceptional behavior of the children, the respect they showed the facilities and the staff, and the tremendous skills of the vochellis. One of the USAID representatives that visited each site reported that she had "never had so much fun in my life!" The campers and vochellis at all of the January camps bid each other tearful goodbyes at the end of their 9 days together. At the directors' meeting following the camps, all of the vochellis voiced their deep desire to return to the provinces to help the children there using the Camp Sizanani model. GCA stands ready to respond to the requests of our new partner organizations around South Africa, and we look forward to working with them again soon.