By Guest Blogger Brian Crowder
A week ago, I returned to the U.S. after a week in South Africa. After 9 years of affiliation with GCA, I’d finally had the opportunity to become a practicing Vochelli—a camp counselor—and a minor part of this March’s session of Camp Sizanani in Rustenburg. As a stateside volunteer and donor to GCA, I had seen the photos and heard the stories from camp, but seeing Camp in person was something completely new for me.
The children meet the Vochellis in central Soweto/Alexandra locations to pile into chartered buses for the more than two hours of exodus from dangerous, impoverished slums to the beautiful, park-like setting arranged for them in rural Rustenburg. Upon arrival, the greeting rituals begin and campers begin to learn who these people are that have pledged more than a week of their time and care for them.
Cabins are organized and lunch is served. This is where a truly amazing transformation starts to happen. Generous portion sizes and the option for “seconds” brought smiles. The kids start making eye contact. Their idea of Camp is becoming clearer, and the safe space that we’ve all played a part in designing for them starts to take shape.
I watch the trust between campers and Vochellis grow throughout the week.
Campers who showed up having never been in a pool learn to swim and even dive; Campers engage in emotional, open and cathartic communication about their deepest struggles in Theatre/Dance; Campers learn healthy ways to make decisions about sex in Life Skills sessions, articulating clear stances on how to avoid HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy.
It’s a well-oiled machine of programmatic learning and relationship building.
By the end of the week, a refrain started to ring out among the campers. “I wish I could stay here forever.” Hearing that made me proud to be there. The kids truly appreciate what is happening for them. They see and feel the changes in themselves. They love the Vochellis.
To anyone interested in funding or supporting Camp Sizanani, please do.
But, also…go. See the faces and meet the people.