Report from the Field: Julian Laurent

"It's fun with a purpose." This was from Thembi, or as she is known to the campers, Vochelli Pebbles. She was describing for me the essence of Camp Sizanani's Intentional Programming model. After seeing the Camp work its magic across two consecutive sessions, I have no shortage of belief in the impact Camp Sizanani leaves on those who attend it. 

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I'd like to share a brief and hopefully illustrative story. As a videographer and filmmaker working with Global Camps Africa, I had the unique and enriching opportunity to spend my days with the campers and counselors not just at camp in Magaliesburg but also being welcomed into their daily lives and communities back home in Soweto. Part of this time was spent getting to know Sbusiso, a camper at the December camp who'd grown up in Meadowlands in Soweto. He'd lost his mother and been estranged from his father, but despite the hardships in his life and in the lives of those around him, he constantly showed a disposition for optimism, resilience and friendship. After camp had ended, we spent a couple long afternoons walking and filming through the streets of Meadowlands. He introduced me to his friends as we passed them in the streets and fields, pointed out a huge blue building that was his former high school, steered me away from gangs and groups of drug abusers in the streets, took me into an arcade where groups of unsupervised school aged children played, and shared a late lunch with me at one of many popular and public bar-b-ques, or as they're called locally, Buy-and-Brai's, where strangers might become friends, foes, or neither over an open access Cook-It-Yourself Grill. After eating, we ascended a massive mining zone that left us perched high above all of Soweto. We could see Meadowlands and all the streets we'd walked that day. We could see the high school he'd shown me, now a small blue building amongst hundreds of others. In the distance, the famous Orlando stadium looked like a small shallow thimble, and the skyscraping silhouette of Johannesburg made good on its nickname, the "Manhattan of Africa." Vilakazi Street, Baragwanath Hospital, the Hector Pietersen Memorial Museum, were visible all at once and the murals on the Orlando Towers added splashes of bright color to the otherwise earthy hues of the buildings and streets. We could see all of Soweto; its past and present and here beside me, in Sbusiso, its future. I could tell by the reverent silence that fell over this young and naturally expressive camper that inwardly, he had entered some other place. He had been telling me throughout the day about this view from the mine hill, and how it reminded him of camp, so when we finally reached the top he said with great dramatic reveal, "And now, we have reached our destiny, where I see everything coming together. When I want to pray or talk to my ancestors, I come here. I feel like I'm at Camp Sizanani when I am here. It's so beautiful. If you are down or sad, you can come and just be yourself." 

When I first looked back over the footage I'd recorded of this moment, and heard Sbusiso say "Now we have reached our destiny," it seemed an endearing slip of his otherwise flawless diction. Looking back though, it seems the most accurate choice of words. Here was where Sbusiso came to reflect on who he was and who he wanted to be in life, on the role he wanted to play in the future of his community, and of South Africa at large. Here, in the middle of this moment, he had fallen silent to let me see for myself what he'd been saying all day; why this place now reminded him of Camp Sizanani. I believe I understand; in the friendships formed and conversations held at Camp Sizanani, he found himself able to see where he fit into the large picture of community and life. Through the experience of camp and its lessons in teamwork, Life Skills, and decision making, he was able reflect on his purpose in life, his dreams for the future and overall, an illumination of self-identity.

For me, as an outsider at the camp, it was easy enough to see how "fun with a purpose" looks. There is always an abundance of laughing, talking, listening, sharing, singing, and smiling at Camp Sizanani. And in these forms, the mechanisms of Intentional Programming can be observed working with the naked eye. But what I saw and felt that afternoon, outside of camp, made very real for me that more subtle and profound magic that Camp Sizanani works. It provides for the campers, the counselors, and even visitors like myself, a vantage point from which we can step away from the physical and mental geographies we inhabit daily. It provides a place to reflect on the past, appreciate the present, and make plans for the future that allow us to appreciate and engage both our outer and inner lives. Indeed, Thembi aka Vochelli Pebbles could not have been more correct and I have seen this purpose extend beyond those hopeful words of rejuvenation and love on the last day of camp into the actual day to day behaviors and lives of people like Sbusiso, a Camp Sizanani camper. 

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