Reston Residents Reaching Out to South African Youth

Reston Patch, December 28, 2010
Phil Lilienthal and Global Camps Africa bring life lessons, camp fun to children affected by AIDS.
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Publication: Reston Patch, December 28, 2010
Author: Elizabeth Vandenberg

Reston Residents Reaching Out to South African Youth

Phil Lilienthal, Reston resident since 1967, knows about how to run a children's camp.

Lilienthal and his family have owned and operated Camp Winnebago in Maine for more than 35 years.  Since 2003, Lilienthal, who is also a lawyer and a former Peace Corps volunteer, has brought his knowledge and experience to South Africa's vulnerable  children with his nonprofit Global Camps Africa.

Lilienthal has galvanized members of the Reston community to adopt Global Camps Africa as its project.   Several well-known Restonians serve on its Board of Directors and many others donate cash and in-kind services to support the 10-day residential camp program that has so far helped more than 3,000 South African children.

The campers are children whose life has been affected by HIV/AIDS (such as losing parents to the disease). In addition to recreational and fun camp activties, the campers are given lessons in HIV/AIDS prevention, life skills and self esteem.

Judith Forst, a Reston resident and former executive director of the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE) , accompanied Lilienthal and his wife, Lynn, the chairman of the Reston Historic Trust, to Camp Sizanani in December 2006 as a volunteer counselor.  She taught the campers intuitive painting.

"I attended a fundraiser for the camp and after hearing Phil describe the camp's mission it just came over me [that]  I have to go there," said Forst.

Forst had never been to Africa and had limited experience teaching younger children in a camp setting, but says her experience was life changing for the campers and for her.

"I could see the issues raised during the week in the camp coming out in their painting," she said.

To carry the camp's message and vision back to Reston, Forst hosted an art show of the South African artists at GRACE.

AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the UK, reports that an estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than in any other country.   Prevalence is 17.8 percent among those aged 15-49, with some age groups being particularly affected. Almost one-in-three women aged 25-29, and over a quarter of men aged 30-34, are living with HIV.

AVERT estimate that South Africa has 1.9 million AIDS orphans (where one or both parents are deceased), and that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is responsible for half of the country's orphans.

Lilienthal left Reston in mid-December to host another camp session.

"Our longer term goal is to leverage the success of Camp Sizanni by training counselors and staff from other organizations to develop their own camp programs," said Lilienthal.

Global Camps Africa:  A Brief Overview

Serving South African youth — ages 11 to 16 — mostly from Soweto

  • Up to six camp sessions per year at Camp Sizanani, a rented site about an hour from Johannesburg.
  • Coed and single-gender camps
  • Seven one-hour classes each day with critical life skills woven into each component in addition to special life skills classes:   HIV/AIDS, Life skills; Nutrition; Sports; Swimming Theater, storytelling, dancing and drumming, poetry;  Arts and crafts
  • Adventure and Teamwork
  • Evening programs include campfires, skits, games, and issues discussions
  • More than 4,000 children have attended camp; up to 150 per session; extensive HIV/AIDS testing and counseling program implemented in 2009 in partnership with HIVSA.
  • 35 counselors per session with 3-4 days pre-camp training; counselors include South African staff and international volunteers who pay their own transportation, room and board
  • Leveraged success by training and partnering for four added camps: KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo provinces and Cape Town in South Africa, and Children of Grace Camp in Uganda
  • Follow-up provided via biweekly Kids Clubs held on Saturdays, year-round at six locations around Soweto. Between 650 and 1,000 children attend each of the 23 sessions held annually.
  • Global Camps Africa has no endowments or government grants. Its support comes from more than 1,500 generous individuals, as well as from foundations and businesses; donations cover costs associated with camps and Kids Clubs; no charge to participants.
  • It costs about $500 per child to provide the camp experience and year-round Kids Clubs
  • $67,500 – $75,000 cost per camp, including facility rent, food, transportation, supplies (teaching, medical and camp supplies), program, staff and staff training, as well as cost of biweekly Kids Clubs