There she was again...Lulama*, sitting outside the dining hall on a bench with a vochelli’s arm around her as she quietly cried, while all the rest of Camp Sizanani’s 135 campers were raucously singing and dancing in line for dinner. It was the third time I had seen her this way, separated from the group, emotionally distraught, in just the first two days of camp. Lulama came to Camp Sizanani with a small group of children from the neighboring town of Magaliesburg. While the others from her group seemed to be assimilating well, Lulama was reserved, non-communicative, and unengaged. What is going on here? I wondered...so I asked Lulama’s cabin vochellis if they knew the reason for Lulama’s difficulty. They explained that she was painfully shy and seemed to be suffering with some type of intellectual disability. They were doing their best to encourage and include her, but she was resisting. Later I found out that her father - a miner - had kidnapped and abused her, running with her from mine to mine all over the country, keeping her from her mother and eventually abandoning her.
During camp I watched as Lulama stood back from the group. Whether it was in activity sessions, in the dining hall, or with her cabinmates, she separated herself and didn’t participate in the singing, laughing, or games her fellow campers were totally immersed in. She never asked a question in Life Skills, never volunteered to share her work in Arts and Crafts. I worried that Lulama would leave camp completely unaffected, untouched by the support and empowerment we had offered her.
Then, on the afternoon of the 6th day at camp, I joined the youngest cabins of campers for swimming. At first, I didn’t recognize Lulama. She was in a bright red bathing suit standing by the pool. The look on her face was something I hadn’t seen before...a mix of trepidation and excitement. As I watched her, something happened. It happened right before my eyes, and it happened in an instant. Her face changed, her eyes lifted from the ground and the worried crease between her eyebrows disappeared. Her body changed, her shoulders moved back and her chin lifted. And then...I couldn’t believe what I was seeing...she ran to the pool and she jumped! She jumped right in. And when she came to the surface, she was beaming with the brightest, most joyful smile I had seen on any camper all week. Lulama made her choice.
And ultimately, that’s what Camp Sizanani is all about. Yes, children learn about HIV, about abuse, about safe sex. They discuss leadership, the importance of education, and their rights. But none of that is important if they don’t make a choice...if they don’t understand and believe that they have a choice. Their choices will determine the course of the rest of their lives and of the future of South Africa. I feel so lucky to have been there to see Lulama make a choice to turn away from her fear and embrace her joy. It is my wish for every camper at Sizanani.
*Not her real name
30th Annual AIDS Walk New York City
Join us in the biggest single-day fundraiser for HIV/AIDS on May 17th in New York. In the past thirty years, AIDS Walk New York has raised millions of dollars to support prevention, care, and advocacy programs for HIV/AIDS-affected men, women, and families. The 30th Annual AIDS Walk New York will benefit not only organizations in the New York area, but also groups like Global Camps Africa that participate through the Community Partnership Program.
Global Camps Africa’s team members have already raised over half of our goal! Join us by registering at https://ny.aidswalk.net/Team/View/5139/Global-Camps-Africa-0565 and invite your friends by sharing our social media posts about the event. Can’t make it? Support Team Global Camps Africa with a donation to help us reach our goal and send 6 more HIV-affected children to Camp Sizanani and a year of Youth Clubs.
Beginning and ending at Central Park, the walk will be 10 kilometers long. The day will begin at 8:30 AM with check in at 59th Street and 5th Avenue. Afterwards, there will be an opening ceremony at 9:15 AM. The AIDS Walk will begin at approximately 10:00 AM, and should take about 2.5 hours to complete. For more information on parking and directions, please visit https://ny.aidswalk.net/Day-of-Event-Info.
Report from the field - Phil Lilienthal, President and Founder
We entered into a new stage with this camp. Not only did we inch toward the 7,000 camper mark, but, among our 134 campers were 12 from Limpopo Province. It was so exciting to have them with us as the kids from Limpopo come from a very rural environment and have little social interaction outside their small community. The interactions they have are quiet games and study groups: certainly none of the rambunctiousness of our Soweto kids.
The organization that serves the kids, Tshandama Lukau, is a grantee organization of USAID and the US Ambassador’s Community Grant Program. At first, Gloria, CEO of Tshandama Lukau, arrived at camp for training, concerned that her kids would not be able to handle the activities, the time away from home, the excitement, and the frantic pace. Another worry was that the children from Limpopo speak an entirely different language from the Soweto kids who comprise our usual camper population. Concerns were alleviated by the second day, and she and her colleague were relaxed, singing and dancing with the other vochellis, and excited in anticipation of the arrival of their charges.
The campers arrived after an all-night ride from Northern Limpopo, close to the border of Zimbabwe, and were, predictably, scared to death. If it hadn’t been for Gloria’s leadership, they would have dissolved into tears.
As it was, they followed the same course as Gloria. They started off scared and, culturally, out of place. By the end of the second day, they were participating and communicating as best they could, but unafraid.
They entered into all the activities, with swimming being the one that was most amazing to them. They were all in the water and progressing at different levels, but participating. They were excited that they got to keep the swimsuits (donated by contributors). They loved all the activities.
We are always excited about having campers from other provinces with us, and we are constantly reminded that the power of camp can touch a child no matter where they are from. We are lucky to have the opportunity to work with so many groups of children, and see them grow so profoundly in just seven days!
'Spreading the News' success!
On Saturday, April 25th “Spreading the News” at the Newseum marked Global Camps Africa’s most successful fundraiser to date. Over 200 guests enjoyed a wonderful evening of delicious food and drink, a fabulous selection of silent auction items, and an exciting live auction.
But the true highlights of the evening were the remarks given by Global Camps Africa’s featured guests. Pulitzer Prize winner Sheryl WuDunn delivered an inspiring speech that reminded guests of the importance of supporting youth around the world and focusing on outcomes in development work. Pamela Barnes, the recipient of the annual Sizanani Award, shared a moving tribute to the work of Global Camps Africa and the profound place that is created for children at Camp Sizanani.
“Spreading the News” at the Newseum was a huge success. Global Camps Africa thanks all the wonderful guests present for raising over $125,000 for future camps for the youth in South Africa.