April 2011 Camp Report

March 28-April 6, 2011

"In the community my son is known for all the bad things. Most people would say he will never be like others: they would go as far as saying like father like son, because I have also served time in jail and had done a number of things that I am not proud of. My community has not given my child to make his own mistakes but has forever said he will grow up and be like me. Yesterday he told me that at camp they taught him how to dream with his eyes open. I don’t know what that means but the look on his face showed me that he knows exactly what he is talking about. Sizanani has given me hope. Thank you." Mr Ndlovu

For our first camp this year, we piloted a day camp model which was a change from our residential setting. Having done 37 sleep-away camps, we wondered whether we could achieve the same impact with our campers in a day camp setting, since much of the appeal in our eyes is that being away from home gives the children a temporary respite from the many stresses they face daily. Now that we are also becoming a training organization, we want to do what will be most useful to South African non-profits that deal with children. As they see children just during the day, we thought it would be easiest for them if we could show them a day camp format. First we had to see if we knew how to run a day camp and, second, whether it would approach a residential camp in its impact. Did it? Read on.......

The results? Beyond our expectations!

We held the 8-day day camp at the Thusa-Setjhaba Secondary School in Poortjie. Poortjie is something of an afterthought township. It is about 10 miles from Soweto and is at a point where farms emanate in all directions from it. There are some 4,000 homes and a population of 25,000-30,000 people. The Secondary School where we held Camp Sizanani has over a thousand students, more than 50 children in each of the classrooms. We have had campers from Poortjie through the years and have had two large (over 100 in each) Kids Clubs there for several years.

The story I have come up with is that blacks owned the farm land in the area and, when the whites wanted it, the blacks were forcibly removed and placed in this township. It’s hard to think of another reason for its creation. There are no stores, beyond tuck shops, a modest convenience store that sells small quantities of a lot of things at inflated prices because everything has to be brought in by taxi. There are no grocery stores, gas stations, or other amenities that even Sowetans take for granted.

There is very high unemployment, high crime and drug use, and no apparent infrastructure for job creation or economic growth. Most people live in squatter-type housing, although there were about 100 units of government housing built near the school.

Camp: What would we see? Given that this was a new model for us, we tried to be prepared for a whole host of potential challenges, such as:

  1. Daily attendance suffering because the campers went home each night;
  2. Parents not appreciating what the campers were learning at camp;
  3. The shorter day would not allow for messages to sink in and be processed and going home at night might short-circuit the process of dealing with individual issues; and
  4. The association of school with camp would take away from the camp experience.

 

The positives we thought might occur were:

  1. Teachers and parents might be more attracted to camp and would look in to see what was happening;
  2. By going home each night, campers could practice what they had learned;
  3. Similarly, parents would be less surprised seeing gradual learning and gradual changes in the campers than if they saw a major transformation at the end of an 8-day period; and
  4. Counselors would be more rested and able to go at a 100% pace since they had no duties with the children after 4:30 pm and could discuss plans for the next day more thoroughly since they were living together at the HIVSA house.

 

We modified our usual daily schedule to accommodate shorter hours while still trying to incorporate the critical life skills and HIV/AIDS education. A typical schedule of camp (8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) included:

Nutrition: Teaching participants the importance of personal and kitchen hygiene; the importance of eating a balance meal; identifying fruit salad using fruits that they can easily access; how a healthy lifestyle plays a big role when HIV positive.

Arts and Crafts: Encouraging self-expression, creativity, income generating projects; listening to the inner voice.

Theater: Promoting self-awareness and self-realization; developing confidence/stage presence and creativity.

Adventure/Sports: Teaching teamwork, trust, communication.

Life Skills: HIV/AIDS related sessions (distinct classroom units), sexuality, abusive behaviors, leadership, participation, and self-confidence woven into all activities.

After each activity, there was a debriefing session where everything learned is referred to life in general. For example, how working as a team in adventure is the same as working hand in hand with family, friends or community to better the world or each other.

Each day we had a surprise visitor designed to offer new perspectives and encouragement. Our Day’s Surprise sessions included:

  • Our former campers from the township of Orange Farm won a national contest of traditional camp dance competition two years in a row and are going to China in a cultural exchange. The Kids Club that sponsors them brought them to camp to perform and meet the current campers.
  • Parents Visit. They arrived for a meeting , visited certain activities to observe their children in action, and then had more meetings with the directors.
  • A South African celebrity, Twasa from a television youth program called Jam Alley came and motivated kids on the importance of believing in yourself and roles that each one has to play in this world.
  • All Camp Activity – Campers played different indigenous games with all counselors participating.
  • An HIV/AIDS educational game played by the groups. This is a Chutes and Ladder adaptation using HIV related questions with choices and consequences.

 

We generally had about 75-88 campers which was a lower attendance than we anticipated. Since we are not confined by bed space, we know to overbook for the next day camp in September. We were supposed to have the school to ourselves, but there were grade 12 college board-type classes going on every day we were there except on Sunday, and 4 church groups that came to use space on Sunday. Once we got used to this, it wasn’t a problem. Rather, it gave us a chance to show others what we were doing.

One of the teachers watched us for quite a while and couldn’t believe that the students were behaving so well and cooperating so fully. The Deputy Principal came and met with our director, Mbali. He said it was a nice demonstration that she was putting on, but what did the kids do when he wasn’t there. She told him there was no special demonstration. He didn’t believe her and went to the second floor and observed, out of sight. Of course, the same activities went on. He was incredulous. He said these were some of the worst kids at school and their behavior at camp was unbelievable.

Joining us for camp were two professors from the University of Georgia who started a five-year longitudinal study of camp and Kids Clubs to measure the effectiveness and degree of behavior change in our children. Their intent was to do pre and post camp testing as an initial barometer for their research.

In a happy misstep, they found that what they called, “the Sizanani effect,” took place as soon as the campers arrived and well before they were to be tested. They were warmly welcomed by the staff, included in the singing that was being done, and made to feel a part of a community instantly. In the future we need to do all the testing before the campers show up at camp.

The initial results turned out well. In Sports and Adventure, lumped together for this camp, the initial expectations of what was going to be learned focused on activities and rules. The post camp test of what was learned was overwhelmingly what we call Level 2 skills-teamwork, cooperation, communication and the like. This is a significant change in attitude.

Parents and Campers Reactions One of the benefits of holding a day camp in the community where the children live is the opportunity for the parents to become part of the dialogue. We had a Parent Visiting Day on the 5th day of camp. About 17 families visited, mostly to thank us. One father (the only man in the group) came because he was fed up with his son lying to him and wanted to catch him in his lies. The son had been telling him of all the great things happening at camp and the father was truly astonished that they were all true.

The story that best sums up the impact camp had on a camper came from a 23-year old 11th grader. She is an orphan and the youngest in her family. She had been passed around from family members over the years and had suffered abuses from rape, beatings, and food deprivation. She was quite sullen and sad the first day of camp. On the second day, she reported that her brother had woken her up early. She asked why and he said that he hadn’t seen her smile in 3 years and when she came home from her first day at camp she was happy and smiling. He wanted to make sure she wasn’t late for the next day.

It continued in that vein. The counselors, most of whom were veterans of residential camps were impressed by the level of confidence and expressiveness that the campers achieved in the 8 days. While the pre and post-camp evaluation reports are still being analyzed, the talk during camp was amazement at how much could be achieved in what we considered to be a less valuable setting with limited hours.

It made all of us think about what the impact of camp can be when done as a day camp. No one preferred the setting and structure to a residential camp, but, barring that, neither could we find a reason not to continue to do another day camp, pending the M&E results of what the campers achieved. We love the idea of being able to pass the day camp approach on to South African non-profits that might be better able to integrate what we taught into a day camp setting, rather than the more difficult residential camp program.