Bridges Camp

In 2013, the team initiated the project Bridges Camp in South Africa in cooperation with the psychological clinic of the University of Pretoria. Since then more than 250 youths and students have been reached in more than 10 camps. The Bridges Camp brings young people from different backgrounds together to give them a chance to overcome their prejudices through interpersonal contact. We encourage the participants to develop a consciousness of racism and injustice and to take a strong stand against it.

“I’m thinking differently about different things now. Before the camp, I had certain views about how other cultures.
When I returned from the camp, I noticed how stupid this was. It is stupid to condemn people because of their skin color, because we are all the same. We are people and we do the same things. We also have so many similarities. “- Rethagen, a participant

 

HappyBridgesCamp2015 from Juliane Hoss on Vimeo.

Background

Even more than twenty years after the end of apartheid, people from different groups in South Africa still live largely separated from each other. This is hardly surprising when one considers that people have been assigned to different groups over decades. A clear, politically legitimized hierarchy gave white people more rights than other groups, leading to the majority of black people facing oppression and degrading living conditions. The effects of these structural injustices are still to be observed in society. Stereotypes and prejudices continue to be very present and lead to skepticism, reluctance, or conflict among young people. These different forms of racism are hard to break through and it will take a long time for them to decline or disappear.

Our vision and goals

Our vision is to contribute to this process. We want to create a platform where young people from different backgrounds in South Africa come together. Through the contact with each other, they get a chance to overcome their prejudices and find ways to fight against racism.

We pursue several objectives:

  • Overcoming prejudices through personal contact.
  • Creating an awareness of social structures and injustices.
  • Encouraging young people to become active themselves and set a sign against racism.
  • Promoting self-initiative and responsibility.

“I have also become more confident and have discovered how to approach others and integrate myself. The camp helped me to leave my comfort zone and I learned many interesting and funny things. The camp was a really good experience for me.” – Brett, a participant

At the camps, the young people are supervised by a team of 10 adults. We offer preparatory seminars and mentoring for the supervisors, so that the participation in this project can also be enriched for them.

“One can observe how prejudices are overcome. The camp was a very nice experience for me. It is exciting and interesting to see how children of the different social backgrounds, who have virtually no contact with one another despite the spatial proximity, meet each other and, against their expectations, get along very well.” Ole, a volunteer from Germany

 

Learn more about our approach  

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Our vision is to create a platform where young people from different backgrounds in South Africa come together, overcome their prejudices and find ways to fight racism. We pursue several objectives:

  • Overcoming prejudices through personal contact: Our camps are based on psychological theories that show that contact is necessary but not sufficient to change attitudes and behaviors towards other groups. We developed a program that makes it easier for young people to meet and change their preconceived perspectives.
  • Creating an awareness of social structures and injustices: We do not want to give the participants any behavior or opinions, but create a critical awareness of social structures.
  • Encouraging young people to become active themselves and set a sign against racism.
  • Promoting self-initiative and responsibility: In many situations, young people feel that they have are ignored or not taken seriously. In our opinion, this leads to many problems in our society. At Bridges Camp, we believe in the potential of young people and want to actively promote it.

A camp is an ideal way to create a platform for personal contact between teenagers from different social groups. First, the camp takes six days and takes place outside the everyday life of the youth. This is necessary because the young people already have deep-rooted prejudices that can not be dismantled within a single day or in their usual environment. Secondly, we can combine educational activities with leisure activities at the camp. Thirdly, the young people can also prepare themselves to return to their familiar surroundings and reflect how they can implement what they have learned.

Structure of our camps:

The camp consists of:

  1. Leisure activities: sports and other games, treasure hunt, bonfires and an unforgettable entertainment program in the evenings. These activities create a platform for the participants to make contact and realise how they can achieve their goals together.
  2. Experiential learning: educational and art therapy exercises. These exercises help young people become aware that prejudices exist and encourage them to reduce them. They also help them to develop a higher self-esteem that they need to pass on their new lessons learned and have a positive impact in their direct environment.
  3. Small groups and discussion groups: Through various activities and discussions in small groups, the young people learn more about different topics, such as respect, prejudices, interpersonal conflicts and self-confidence, and can form their own opinions.
  4. Leisure time, where the teenagers can interact and make friends.

 

Supporting future leaders

One special aspect of the camp is that a few teenagers are selected at each camp to become facilitators at the next camp. After an intensive preparation training, they have a chance to teach the new participants and take responsibility for the games as well as the overall organisation of the camp. This approach encourages young people to think critically about societal structures and take responsibility to have a positive impact as part of our project as well as in their direct environment. The project ultimately aims at supporting future leaders to create social change.

“The camp has really changed me, especially the work we do as facilitators. The success of the camp really depends on the leaders. It is our responsibility that everyone learns and has a lot of fun. “- Lyza, a facilitator at the camp

 

How we work with teenagers

It is particularly important for us to give the teenagers as much responsibility as possible during the project. We want to give young people a chance to recognize their own abilities and interests. The facilitators have repeatedly told us that they often feel they are not taken seriously at school or in everyday life because of their age. Instead of being patronized, they wish to develop their own potential. And as much as they long for guidance, they also wish to be a role model for younger teenagers.

The teenagers, who have been selected as youth leaders to come to the camps can take on increasingly more responsibility at the camps: on their first camp as facilitators, they can explain different games  to the participants and are responsible for carrying out the treasure hunt and a colorful evening. At the following camp, they lead small groups and discussion sessions. After several camps, they can also offer activities for larger groups and invent their own program points. So far, we have invited 10 facilitators, who have shown particular commitment, to become ‘supervisors in training’ as part of our team and integrated them into the organization process of the entire project. Together they have revised the concept of the camp, designed their own program manual for a camp and directed small groups on their own camp.

“My role as a ‘supervisor in training’ is great and I enjoy to brighten up the teenager’s faces. It is very nice to be a member of Bridges Camp because I can be part of something fantastic. It is wonderful how the young people look up to me as a leader, a friend, a sister and a role model. I also enjoy being able to find new friends. “- Nikisha, a ‘Supervisor in training’

 

“Before I became a facilitator at Bridges Camp, I’ve only gone through all of my duties. But now I try to complete everything as good as possible. I try very hard, because I want to excel in everything. I have participated in several camps and am now a ‘supervisor in training’. Together with the others, I developed a manual of interesting activities and games for an upcoming camp. I can now stand before a group and speak confidently. I wish I could take more responsibility for the camp.” Reezan, ‘Supervisor in Training’

Computer workshops

To support the young people with their education and guide them on their path to personal development, we offer regular computer and coding workshops: We have trained 10 youngsters as official “computer facilitators”, who are now teaching younger students how to use a computer and how to write their first lines of codes.

“You are now so professional now that you do not need any help anymore!” This comment from Elke Simon-Keller, an employee of SAP, shows how impressed she was by the 10 teenagers, who offered workshops for younger students as part of the Africa Coding Week.

Since February 2016, we are organising regular computer courses in cooperation with the German School in Pretoria and SAP, where the young people were trained as official “computer facilitators”. They were very excited when they taught younger students for the first time but they cooperated very well as a team. We were proud to watch them explain how a computer works and how to create their own codes. At that moment it seemed incomprehensible that some of them had never used a computer before the project began.

“I think the program should go on, as we also teach younger young people in our environment and they really like it. I would like to expand the program all over Africa so that our children and young people can learn more about it, as it really helps us. “- Reezan (14), ‘Supervisor in Training’ and one of the computer facilitators