Sipho, 15, bakes in the sunlight as he lays sprawled on a trampoline after a busy weekend. He is participating in a camp for children of the community that are of his age – a treasured opportunity. His smile has not ceased since he joined with thirty other campers in a dancing and singing session, which ended moments ago. The sun warms his body, and the memories of the weekend warm his heart.
Kids’ camps were introduced in South Africa by Hands at Work in 2005. Children aged 10 -18 arrive by taxi during holidays to Sanderson Farm in Mpumalanga, where they are shown to a comforting room in which they will stay for three days. The days will include lessons centered on relevant life issues for these children, such as HIV/AIDS awareness, safety and precaution in their communities, relationships with God and each other, and what it means to be a leader. The children are invited to explore their communities and to consider the problems in which they can have an impact. They are taught how to be an effective influence on their peers, and how their relationship with God will impact their day-to-day lives. In between lessons, the children enjoy a hand-prepared meal, mentoring talks with facilitators and fellowship with each other – with many moments for singing, dancing, and group games. Pontso Nadoi, facilitator in Kids’ Camps who was trained by Hands at Work, commented on how she often gets remarks from parents on how well their child behaves after attending a weekend at camp. “They ask me, ‘What did you do to my child?’ They [the campers] return from camp and start youth groups and support teams – it really is moving through the community”.
These camps also give the kids the opportunity to simply be children – to run and play and learn and laugh with each other and with volunteer facilitators.
Sipho has attended Kids’ camps twice now, and the Sanderson farm is where he found a passion to lead people in a way that honours God. “When I am playing games and socializing with the other kids who are just like me, I find that I don’t have to worry about anything. This camp makes me feel care-free, and I forget about some of the things I have to deal with at home. I have learned that God is my strength, and He is the one who gives me courage and hope each day.”
He has plans to develop a youth group in his community, where he can be a light and a mentor, newly equipped with valuable information and life lessons to take home.