ACA Spring Leadership Conference Speech by CEO Phil Lilienthal

At the ACA Spring Leadership Conference in April 2011, keynote speaker and CEO/President of Global Camps Africa, Phil Lilienthal, recounted his experiences with camps both at home and abroad. Mr. Lilienthal explained the origins of his work with camps in Maine, Ethiopia, and, eventually, South Africa. After starting out at Camp Winnebago in the northeastern United States, Lilienthal got the chance to start a residential camp while he was serving in Ethiopia for the Peace Corps. At the request of the Ethiopian government, he created a two-week residential camp that broke down ethnic and tribal prejudices amongst campers. After leaving Ethiopia, Lilienthal knew that he would one day return to Africa to create more camps like Camp Langano.

This vision finally became a reality after his kids were grown and Lilienthal decided to partner with an organization called HIV South Africa (HIVSA) to create a camp which would offer life skills and HIV/AIDS education. There were many struggles in the creation of what would become Camp Sizanani. Thabo Mbeki, leader of South Africa for eight years, had caused much confusion about the spread and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Sometimes problematic cultural attributes, known collectively as “This is Africa,” included tardiness, unregistered campers coming in the place of others, and other challenges.

Despite the many obstacles that he faced, Mr. Lilienthal managed to create a traditional summer camp with a non-traditional twist: battling the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among children from dire social and economic situations. These kids come for 8 days of swimming, sports, arts and crafts, adventure, and theater, as well as nutrition and life skills. They learn skills such as teamwork, communication, persistence and self-expression. They have enthusiastic and supportive counselors, or “vocheli,” who have been trained (either directly or indirectly) by Michael Brandwein, a leader in the field.

Mr. Lilienthal has found that the children who come to camp are “the most cheerful, upbeat, positive role models you can imagine.” They are motivated and determined to improve themselves and find a better path- they just need someone to point them in the right direction. One 14-year old explained what he gained from camp: “choice.” He now realized he had choices in all aspects of his life.

Lilienthal closed the address with a call to action. He articulated Global Camps Africa’s mission to change the lives of Africa’s vulnerable children and youth by providing HIV/AIDS prevention education and training through a high-impact residential camp experience and continuing education, equipping young people with the life skills that will support them in becoming safe and productive adults who have hope for the future. You can help us reach this goal by supporting Global Camps Africa’s vision of empowering Africa’s youth for an AIDS-free tomorrow. Volunteer as a counselor for two weeks. Have your camps support a camper. Talk to your friends and join them in sponsoring a child. Just $500 is enough to send a child to camp and to Kids Clubs for one year. No matter how you demonstrate your support, you have the power to change a child’s life.

To see the speech in its entirety, please click here.