“I really enjoyed this camp. The new friends I met are really cool and awesome. When I first came to the camp, I was very nervous and excited. The whole week was fun; the food, people, swimming pool and the camping site was phenomenal. I feel sad because we are going home. It was fun but now it’s done.”  – Eunrique

We left for our fifth Bridges Camp and a new adventure on Monday morning, the 5th of October. Even though we have organized four successful camps before, it is always challenging to take a new group of teenagers on our “Bridges Camp journey”. It is a special journey because we bring together teenagers from different backgrounds in South Africa with the aim of overcoming racial prejudice and being  more tolerant with each other. Most of the new participants either live in segregated areas without any contact to teenagers from the other group or experience many problems in their communities or at their schools. At this camp, similarly to previous experiences, the teenagers told us again that they only have friends in their own group and we were again surprised how these youngsters have already internalized racial prejudices.

The journey at the camp is all about teenagers coming together to unite as a group at the camp so that they can realize that they should not judge others, learn how to work together and implement that in their communities.

“It was finally Monday and on Monday in the taxi, I was a bit nervous because I thought I will never make new friends but when we arrived at this camp, this cool camp, everything changed. I learned to work with others and to respect others and not to judge.” – Enzo

We have to admit that the week started very difficult as some teenagers had problems to adjust to this new environment and already on the second day, we had to solve severe conflicts. We usually take every fight or argument amongst the teenagers as an opportunity to encourage them to respect each other and find solutions without turning to violent or unfair behavior. Looking back, we are glad and proud that we could assist the teenagers to apologize for their wrong doing and settle the conflicts. Having some teenagers that show a difficult behavior also means that we need to give them special attention to integrate them into the group. Throughout the week, we experienced that one of the boys completely changed his behavior and stopped fighting and rather helped younger teenagers. Another boy who spend hours crying because he was homesick started to enjoy his time and found many friends. To observe such a change within just one week made us realize how important our work is and how much these teenagers need guidance and positive attention. We were glad that these problems did not interfere anymore with the process at the camp afterwards.

“Bridges Camp is the best ever.” Damion

At every camp, we have a group of teenagers that attended previous camps and were chosen as facilitators due to their leadership potential. We call them facilitators and they play games with the new participants, lead small group activities in which they teach them about respect and tolerance and have small duties in the kitchen. These teenagers have made incredible progress since they started their journey with us and some of them actually realize when a new participant struggles to find friends at the camp. We are always impressed to see how they take care of these youngsters and manage to integrate them in the group. The fact that they welcome everyone at the camp really helps us to establish a positive atmosphere in the group.

“I thought that other races will be bossy but when I got out of the taxi, they all greeted us as if we have known each other long ago. One by was my favorite facilitator and became my friend. He is also a very good dancer and we had a dancing competition.”- Katlego

We were so touched on the third evening, when the facilitators prepared a fashion show before supper, where all the participants had to walk in with a partner. They made sure that no teenager was left alone and everyone felt special as they cheered on them. This actually shows that they do not only speak about tolerance and respect but have internalized it in their behavior. One of the facilitators gave a goodbye speech saying that she will miss each individual as they are all special and this is exactly what they showed them throughout the week!

“Don’t worry about this naughty boy anymore, just call me and I will sit with him.” – Rose (a facilitator for the second time)

One girl that has already been a facilitator for three camps told us that we actually push them to their limits but that they like it because it makes them grow. We spent a lot of time to prepare them so that they can facilitate the games and small group activities and on Thursday afternoon, we couldn’t believe what we saw: None of the adult supervisors had anything to do anymore because these youngsters took over. We walked around and saw 14 year old leading discussion groups with the new participants explaining to them why they should stop judging each other. They learned so much at our camps and were suddenly able to pass on our message of tolerance better than we could have ever done it ourselves. What really impressed us was the fact that they also implemented all the advice we gave to them how to discipline the kids in a positive way and one girl remembered that it can help to touch the shoulder of a very naughty boy. They managed to keep their groups calm and focus on their activities. We could see that they are constantly improving as they are not only explaining the games but also come up with new ideas or change their strategy when an activity doesn’t work out the way it was planned. To see that our assistance is no longer needed the whole time was a weird feeling but this is actually what we want to achieve when we train future leaders!

It is always very difficult to choose new facilitators as all the teenagers are just amazing! However we had to make a choice and selected 6 outstanding young boys and girls with a huge potential to become future leaders. We are sure that they will become an unreplacable part of our team and a great help at the next camp. We also decided to give one of the very naughty boys an opportunity to join our team as a helper because we believe that the chance to take responsibility for others can change people’s lives. He will need a lot of assistance but we are confident that we can guide in a positive direction.

“I am so glad that I was chosen as a facilitator and can’t wait to come back and see all my friends again. Thank you!” – Samantha

The games and activities are very important at the camp because it helps the teenagers to open up and find friends. Even a simple game in a circle might be a challenge for some but can be the turning point as they overcome their shyness and learn how to be more confident in their interactions with others. They also have the chance to work together with teenagers they haven’t yet spoken to which helps to build a strong group identity.

“When I came first to the camp, I was shy and quiet. I never thought I will make friends. I really hated the morning exercises and the morning circle but now I really love them because they make me to be more open with others. The day I enjoyed the most was when we had a casino night where we played casino games with Bridges Camp $ and with those dollars that are sweets you can buy popcorn and cookies.”  – Kamogelo

“I was excited when I was at the taxi because I was going to meet other people from different races. […] On Wednesday night, I felt like I was flying. T was casino night and I had 15 sweets.” Khutso

The activities are also a great opportunity for the teenagers to be creative and find ways to express their feelings. We incorporate many art activities and guide them to create own pieces of art. One of the highlights of the week was definitely the last evening when they performed poems and little dramas about judgment and racism. And of course the teenagers loved the party afterwards.

“On Thursday I was very happy because I we spoke about what we want to wear at Friday because it was party night. At Friday it was very fun at night when people were doing poems and dramas also. They also dance and have fun. I love Bridges Camp because we are giving fun and learn new things.” – Happy

The success of this camp is also mainly due to the hard work of our adult supervisors that lead the teenagers by example. They can feel that we value each and everyone of them and we always try to spend a lot of quality time while still fulfilling all duties because we know how much they treasure that! One girl wrote a very nice goodbye letter:

“My week here at Bridges Camp was very fun and I enjoyed every single minute and now that I am leaving, I will miss all of my friends. I will always love and miss them. Thank you Juliane (one of the supervisor), my mom, sister, best friend and most of all my mentor. Love you!” #facilitator2016 #Iwillmissyouall #loveyou #sofun #madenewfriends # feelingmyself

The teenagers wrote letters about the camp on the last day and the messages they send us make us realized that our work is important because they really have a chance at the camp to learn new things and leave with a new perception about their society:

“In this journey called life, good times will come and go. While I was walking on this endless road of life, I bumped into a place called Bridges Camp. At that place all people are angels send by God. When I walked in there, I saw beautiful people. They welcomed me with both hands at that place I met wonderful people and when all of their personalities mix they form one word “awesome”. My week at this place was very nice and I had so much fun. We learned to respect each other people to respect ourselves. We learned to co-operate with people from other races in order to build a nice country based on care and love and a wonderful fast growing region South Africa, a place where everyone is welcomed. Home for young and old.” Tebogo

We are grateful for all these experiences and thank everyone who made this camp possible!

Bridges Camp – October 2015

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