Looking Back to Go Forward

The impact of youth camps on education, employment, sexual health and parenting in South Africa

by Sydni Brecher

When you are enthralled in the fun and activities at Camp Sizanani, Global Camps Africa’s flagship program in South Africa, the larger impact on the children participating in the program may not be immediately recognizable.  After all, children at camp is a familiar scene for most of us. That’s why Jane Simmonds, a South African public health program evaluator, with support from faculty at Witwatersrand University in South Africa, set out to evaluate Camp Sizanani’s influential experience and gauge its success through her research. For Global Camps Africa, she answered the question: what lasting impact does the Camp Sizanani experience have on the health and wellbeing of the children who participate in this program?

Over 8,000 children have attended Camp Sizanani since Global Camps Africa was founded in 2003. Since our inception, our goal has been to help prepare vulnerable youth in South Africa with the necessary tools to lead healthy, empowered lives and make positive impacts on their communities. The evaluation study aimed to examine Camp Sizanani’s success at having positive life and health outcomes in South African youth. Through comparative methodology, Simmonds and her colleagues interviewed 269 children: 113 former campers and 156 and non-campers from Soweto, Orange Farm, and Poortjie. The study’s results demonstrated a positive relationship between youth development and attending Camp Sizanani.

Here are the fast facts we learned from Jane Simmond’s evaluation study:

  • Approximately ninety-one percent of former campers were aware of their HIV status compared to the South African national average of seventy-six percent. Simmonds credits this achievement to their attendance at camp.

  • Former campers were three times more likely to have had an HIV test than non-campers.

  • Male and female campers yielded a higher condom usage during first sex, most recent sex, and consistently.

  • Male campers are nearly four times more likely to use condoms during their first sexual encounter than non-campers. Females also had a higher rate of condom usage.

  • Approximately seventy percent of former campers attended Youth Clubs prior to camp and after attending, seventy-six percent of former campers attended Youth Clubs for more than three months.

Simmond’s research taught Global Camps Africa a great deal about what we have accomplished since we began. Not only did we receive many positive results, but we also learned ways to improve specific pieces of programming that will increase our impact even further.   In addition to all the many different aspects of our programs' outcomes that this evaluation took into consideration, we can also qualitatively measure each camper’s personal experience...the ways that each child’s self-perception is deeply and forever changed by the education, empowerment, and support that they gain at Camp Sizanani.  For that, we look to the stories we hear directly from our campers.  Please visit www.globalcampsafrica.org/one-question-five-answers to read about how Lebo, Mpho, Edna, Thabo, and Naledi feel their lives have changed after attending Camp Sizanani.

The insight we gain from our campers’ stories, together with the evaluation results from Simmonds’ study, inspire us to innovate and expand our programs so that we can continue meet our campers where they are with the tools they need.