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Change Makers in Africa: Venues for Healing and Social Change
Universal needs, tireless visionaries, transplanted ideas, unique character.
We sometimes forget the power of the camp experience. We invite you to meet change makers in Africa and allow seeds of change to grow in your heart as you imagine steps in your area. Find inspiration by examining different ways that sparks of individual actions have ignited caring groups of people to create lasting change. You can see different approaches to the camp model, but recognize their common ability to sense needs, adapt ideas, and apply effort to create reality. Let the incredible possibilities unfold as if you are hearing the stories while sitting across the table from the change makers themselves, so you can see the glint in their eyes — their enthusiasm is infectious!
South Africa — Global Camps Africa
Empowering Children for an AIDS-Free Tomorrow
Global Camps Africa (GCA) was founded on a belief in how camp can change lives. Veteran U.S. camp owner and director Philip Lilienthal brought together his belief in the transformational nature of camp and his passion for helping people around the globe to create a powerful force in the lives of South African children. GCA was founded in 2003, and the following year its first residential camp program was real. Camp Sizanani (meaning "to help each other") changes the lives of South Africa's vulnerable children and youth by providing HIV/AIDS prevention education and training through high-impact residential and day camp experiences and continuing education in their home community.
The camp program has gone beyond its initial objective of AIDS prevention to expose underserved youth with tools to live productive, powerful lives emanating from their single, eight-day camp experience. GCA encourages all campers to continue the Camp Sizanani experience through year-round youth clubs that occur on alternate Saturdays at six locations in the Soweto area, where most of the children live. Here campers can delve deeper into complicated life skills they touched on at camp. The youth clubs serve as a reinforcement and enhancement of the camp experience. They renew friendships, revive a sense of fun, and reaffirm a positive outlook on effecting change with the support of caring adults.
In a typical year, Camp Sizanani holds three eight-day sessions for 140 campers each on a rented site one hour from Johannesburg. It serves youth ages eleven to eighteen. With ten years of experience, over 6,300 campers, and 1,000 counselors, the legacy is growing and changing lives. GCA also works with other organizations with the desire, if not the capacity, to conduct their own camps. This year, thirty- seven organizations will collaborate to hold camp experiences.
What began as Phil's belief in camp as a model for changing lives has spread to a core staff in South Africa. Michelle Schorn and Kabelo Malefane have collaborated with Phil for many years, but in January 2014, the dream expanded. The single camp on a single site gave birth to nine simultaneous camps (each with a camp director who had been a staff member at Camp Sizanani), one in each province. GCA trained and partnered with local nonprofit organizations in each province and has now led programs in rural areas of South Africa, Uganda, and Lesotho. It all started because one man was not quite ready to retire, and he has brought a camp-based vision to provide the tools for a country to reshape its future.
Nigeria — Lanlate Initiative
Addressing Hunger and Corruption by Creating a Camp Mentality
Every society dedicated to building a future for itself must invest in the inspiration, enrichment, and development of its youth. Nigeria is no exception. Various organizations and individuals in that country have undertaken school, after-school, and vacation programs for children and youth. Recently, a residential camp model has emerged under the auspices of the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria to deliver needed opportunities for these young people and for the country. In the eyes of the church, one is considered a youth up to age thirty, so the potential for influential and life-changing impact through the camp experience is profound.
Father Ade Job served the church and community of Ibadan under five different Popes. He retired from his position as the Archbishop of Ibadan in the final days of 2013 having established a strong legacy of environmental and youth development initiatives. Just as any good camp director might do, he used his position and travels to absorb and develop good ideas for the future of his community. He established some of the first fish farms in the country, experimented with a wide range of species plantings on church properties, raised animals for food to service the official residence, established links with universities (particularly in the areas of agriculture), and discovered the camp movement in America.
Father Ade also identified a path to bring the camp experience to Nigeria. He selected a hard-working, dedicated, young priest and charged him with creating a camp. He sent the priest to the Pines Catholic Camp in Texas for a year. He set aside 250 acres of church property for the future development of a camp site. The result is the Lanlate Initiative. Father Ade's choice for the hard-working, dedicated priest was Father Mark Obayi.
It was the right choice.
Following his year in Texas, Father Mark brought back a dream and a path. With the help of the church in Ibadan and generous donations from his adopted community in the U.S., the Lanlate Initiative is taking shape on the African savannah approximately 100 miles from the 1.5 million people in the city of Ibadan.
At several key points on the drive into the property, the camp site map proudly outlines the dream. The map shows future location of crops, cabins, a kitchen, ropes courses, and a chapel. Approximately 50 acres is dedicated to camp development surrounded by 200 acres of agricultural land. Already under cultivation (with expert advice from advisory board members bringing their academic and professional training in agriculture), the crops — plantain, cassava, yams, cashews, teak, fruits, and more — serve the threefold purpose of a revenue source through market sales, a food source for the camp kitchen, and a job-skill training opportunity for campers. The director's house (the only modern building on the site at present) serves as the base for planning of projects and housing of guests.
As with any successful camp, Father Mark is investing in people. Young people in the Ibadan parishes and beyond have been identified and receive regular opportunities to serve and train in the cause of camp. In December of 2013, the International Camping Fellowship and the Archdiocese of Ibadan sponsored a five-day workshop in camp development and leadership for forty priests and young people prior to a large youth assembly that also took place on the site utilizing tents.
Nigeria struggles with challenges of social and institutionalized corruption. While widespread, corruption is not universal, and many people aspire to change. Youth lack tools to understand how to affect change and how to apply the strengths that lie in their arms, minds, and hearts. Lanlate Initiative creates a path to a new and renewed definition of community.
There is much work to be done, but there are people and the will to do it. The camp is committed to providing for yearround use, community outreach, diverse user groups, collaborative programming, and ongoing leadership development. As many as ten young people have received funding to participate in the next international camping congress in Antalya, Turkey. They want to engage with international colleagues, share their model, and bring new ideas home to Nigeria.
South Africa — Just Footprints
Creating Opportunities for Children Denied a "Normal" Childhood
A meeting with Leoné Joost is of ten life-altering. Her effusive description of the vision of the Just Footprints Foundation is infectious: "To create opportunities for children who have been denied the joy of 'normal' childhood play and their families to reach beyond their illness and traumatic life circumstances and discover a new world of possibilities." She explains that youth programs that are currently offered at various camp venues in South Africa are designed for healthy, active children and are not able to provide appropriate medical support or wheelchair accessibility for children with special needs.
In 2008, in partnership with Cotlands, CHOC Children's Cancer Foundation South Africa, the Reach For A Dream Foundation, and the Ithemba Trust, Leoné founded Just Footprints Foundation, an outdoor, fun-adventure camp initiative for children with serious health and life challenges. Just Footprints has since hosted thirty-eight camps for nearly 2,000 children who are infected/affected by HIV, have cancer-related illness, or have other special needs. They also host a sibling camp and a sibling bereavement camp, with 650 young adults trained as volunteers to support the campers. The Just Footprints Foundation has recently purchased a property in the Dinokeng Game Reserve north of Pretoria and will develop a green, custom-designed, barrier-free children's "African Bush" camp. Recently, Leoné, as foundation chairperson, has undertaken a massive fund development effort to support the construction of barrier-free and eco-friendly facilities and a medical unit on the property.
Confidently, Leoné explains, "At Camp Footprints, opportunities are provided for these special children to participate in an amazing, life-changing adventure; learn new skills through intentional programming; develop confidence; and enhance their self-esteem in a safe and nurturing, 'fun' camp environment. Our campers are encouraged to be fearless, escape, fantasize, and be joyful kids once again."
Leoné credits her inspiration to her contact with the late Paul Newman, founder of the SeriousFun Children's Network, as well as her friendship with Phil Lilienthal, founder of Global Camps Africa. Recognizing that the culture of philanthropy and resources in South Africa are limited, she tirelessly pursues opportunities for new partnerships and collaboration. Change is coming to South Africa.
Liberia — Camp for Peace
Rebuilding Lives and Community
Meet B. Abel Learwellie, a former child soldier who was kidnapped in 1990, suffered the horrors of war, and later escaped into exile. In his words, "I got my healing through camping, and that's one reason why my life is dedicated to a camping ministry. I believe that some of the most difficult problems of this world can be addressed through camping. At camp, people, especially young people, learn so many positive things that have a lasting imprint on their lives."
Abel's ministry began in 1989, but was preempted by civil war in Liberia. He resumed his career in 1999, but a second round of war in 2002 caused a halt until 2005. At that time, he organized the Liberian Camping Association, which brought together various youth groups from different cultural, ethnic, and political backgrounds. In 2011, the name of the Liberian Camping Association was changed to Camp for Peace Liberia, Inc., with a focus on rehabilitation and development through camp.
Abel is a graduate of the University of Liberia with a master's degree in educational administration. In 2004, he was an international camp counselor through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and was assigned to Camp Mount Luther in Pennsylvania. In 2011, he served as an international fellow of the United States Department of State and was assigned in New York with the Fel lowship of Reconciliation where he conducted practical research on youth gun violence in the Bronx and South Chicago.
The fourteen-year Liberian civil wars that ended in 2003 have taken a toll of human life, human resources, and infrastructure. With few functioning schools, children have resorted to violence, and an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 orphans roam the city streets. Camp for Peace Liberia has the goal of contributing to the development, empowerment, and self-sustainability of young people in Liberia. Programs include organized peace camps, access to microfinance education, HIV/AIDS awareness, and rehabilitation of former child soldiers and ex-combatants. Abel affirms, "I have developed so much passion for this work that I can't let it go for any other job. If I acquire nothing in this world but to give my best in transforming lives, I will be happy that I contributed by helping people whose lives have been devastated and suppressed to be happy and develop self-worth and values once again."
Support and Encouragement to Envision a Sustainable Future through Camp
For Kwame (Felix) Yeboah, the fall of 2007 at YMCA Camp Grady Spruce in Texas was a pivotal point in his career direction. Camp, particularly Project Adventure skills, opened possibilities for a new type of education for the youth of Ghana. After receiving a master's degree in environment and natural resource management in 2009 at Michigan State University, he continued with doctoral studies. As a graduate fellow, he teaches courses in connected learning, environmental policy, and sustainability issues, anticipating completion of a PhD in environmental policy and international development in June 2014.
Kwame intends to return to Ghana to help rural communities manage their natural resources by assisting them in diagnosing their local problems and designing and implementing solutions that reflect their own local strengths and constraints. He is acutely aware of his responsibility to inspire and mentor youth for academic excellence. Camp may likely be the vehicle to address this need. He explains that Ghanaian children, unlike children in the U.S., have constant exposure to nature, but that learning is not guided. For example, they know intuitively that planting seeds produces a crop of corn, with no understanding of the process. Camp can address that learning gap while reinforcing their connection to the natural environment.
The concept of camp must be translated into terms for the Ghanaian culture, particularly with prospective funders. Education is paramount in the minds of parents and government officials, and repackaging camp as education provides that connection. Kwame has seen firsthand the 21st-century learning skills of teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, and initiative taught at camp, along with academic skills of accessing and analyzing information. As a researcher, he is ready for the challenge of being a bridge builder for cross-cultural learning.
As a young change maker, Elizabeth Morrison has also combined her educational values and enthusiasm for the camp experience to create a vision for the future of Ghana's children. Although her childhood was spent in inner-city Boston, she successfully completed studies at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Georgetown Law School. Her hands-on experience included several years with a nonprofit afterschool and summer enrichment program, work with the AnBryce Foundation and Camp Dogwood, and establishment of her own camp, Project Decathlon, in Washington, DC.
Elizabeth's first experience in Ghana was as a team leader for Operation Crossroads Africa, a U.S.-based volunteer organization, where she implemented and managed community development projects. Kakumdo Village welcomed Project Decathlon, which brought opportunities for children to participate in traditional camp activities, academic challenges, and immersion in English language. Her ongoing relationships with Ghanaian families led her to return in 2013 to Atwa, a village of pineapple farmers, where she again operated Project Decathlon within a private and a government-run school. The camp focused on financial literacy, teaching about currency, wants and needs, budgeting, discipline, and entrepreneurship.
With encouragement of other camp leaders in Africa, Elizabeth will return in the summer of 2014 to operate the camp and begin the process of seeking funding support to purchase land and build a facility that will incorporate eco-friendly practices and global networking. The camp provides scholarships for local children and short-term employment opportunities for aspiring educators. With hard work, the tenacity to overcome challenges, and appreciation of small successes, the seeds have been planted for a camp that will make a difference in the lives of Ghanaian youth for future generations.
When asked what is important for the camp community to know, Elizabeth responds, "In Ghana, there are countless qualified, able-bodied, educated, intelligent people who have the discipline, skill, motivation, stamina, and determination to create, build, operate, manage, and sustain 21st-century, state-of-the-art camps."
Antalya Turkey — ICC 2014
Meet the Change Makers
There are many compelling reasons to participate in the 10th International Camping Congress, October 23–27, 2014, in Antalya, Turkey: keynote speakers of international renown; program tracks focusing on research, business management, operations, and human resources; cultural immersion; and networking with camp professionals from more than thirty countries. However, one of the most compelling reasons to attend is the opportunity to meet, talk to, and partner with change makers from every continent — people who believe in the camp experience and the ability of camp to address social issues. Father Mark Obayi, B. Abel Learwellie, and Phil Lilienthal, featured in this article, are just a few of the individuals who will inspire you with the depth of their experiences and commitment.
Turkey sits astride two continents, a position that has given rise to a culture that reflects both East and West. Under the banner of "Let's Camp for Peace," delegates will convene at the Maritim Pine Beach Resort on the Mediterranean Sea. A first-time addition of an agents' workshop on October 23, preceding the congress opening, will provide an opportunity for directors to meet with representatives from international schools and placement agencies to discuss camper recruitment in a "speed-dating" format. Pre- and post-congress tours of Turkey will also be offered. Full information is found at: http:// icc2014turkey.org.
John "Jorgi" Jorgenson is a director at Camp Tawingo in Huntsville, Onatario, Canada, and president elect of the International Camping Fellowship. He has served as president of the Ontario and Canadian Camping Associations. In addition, Jorgi has developed and delivered international camp training events in a variety of settings. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gwynn Powell, PhD, is part of the Park, Recreation, and Tourism Management faculty at Clemson University. She has been an active volunteer with ACA at the local and national levels, and has two decades of experience with day and residential camp, as well as recent experience with camps in Russia, South Africa, and Turkey. She serves as an ambassador for the International Camping Fellowship. email@example.com
Linda Grier Pulliam is a retired executive of ACA, Virginias, and was a camp director for twenty-seven years. She has served on the board of the International Camping Fellowship for the past fifteen years and is the international coordinator for ACA. She and her husband are consultants for the European camps of the SeriousFun Children's Network. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Camp for Peace, Liberia.