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Children in the Wilderness

  • One of the Trust’s cornerstone ideals is that of educating the children of Africa, and inspiring them with a love of and commitment to their natural heritage. This applies in particular to those living on the boundaries of many of Wilderness Safaris’ properties and camps. Children in the Wilderness (CITW) is a programme that fulfils this ideal and has proven extremely successful since its inception in 2001.

    Children in the Wilderness is dedicated to helping children whose childhoods have been disrupted by life-threatening conditions such as disease, poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Using environmental education, therapeutic recreation and old-fashioned fun, Children in the Wilderness opens up the minds of children, increases their self-esteem, builds and strengthens their capacities to cope with life’s challenges and educates them with the life skills necessary to actualise their greatest potential. It focuses on building an awareness of and responsibility for their beautiful natural heritage.

    In order to host CITW participants, Wilderness Safaris closes off some of its camps to guests and opens them to the children. Over the December 2004/January 2005 period, CITW hosted 1 512 "children-in-camp-days" throughout southern Africa:

    Botswana operated seven camps, three camps at Jacana Camp and four camps at Kaparota, each camp hosting 16 children.
    In Malawi, three camps were held at Chintheche Inn, each one accommodating 24 children.
    Namibia hosted three camps at Palmwag Rhino Camp, each one accommodating 24 children.
    All the camps were highly successful, with a vibrant and friendly feel to them. During the course of the programme, the children participated in a range of activities that were both fun and educational, and inspired their creative talents such as arts and crafts, creative writing and drama. All of these activities are important in their own right but within the Children in the Wilderness programme, they form part of a greater plan that centres on instilling in the participants a sense of love and respect for the environment.

    In this respect, the very setting of the camps themselves was a key factor; set in pristine wilderness areas, each camp offers an incredible diversity of animals and plants. Every day, the children set out with their guides to explore the conservation areas, either in Land Rover, mokoro, on foot or, in the case of Malawi, horseback. They were armed with notebooks, checklists and eagerness, all complemented by the inexhaustible knowledge and enthusiasm of their guides. After each activity they would return to camp, brimming with excitement over the things they had seen and the wonders of nature they had experienced. This was the ideal time to tap into and broaden their inquisitive minds through educational sessions that took place shortly after their return from the morning activity. These sessions were very informative but children's minds are always more receptive to the information that they discover for themselves, so there was always a highly interactive component to these sessions as well.

    Botswana:
    This year, Mox, a street child who attended one of our Children in the Wilderness Camps in Botswana some years ago, rejoined us a "tent leader". After having attended the Children in the Wilderness Camp, Mox returned to school and now hopes to take up a career focusing on either tourism or the environment on completing his schooling in a few years’ time. Mox was visibly excited to be back in camp! 

    Namibia:
    For the first time in their lives, the children have been able to see the wonders of Namibia that have previously been out of their reach. The screams of delight as they ran up some of the world’s highest sand dunes signified only the beginning of the incredible experiences had by all. Several of our own Namibian guides and managers serve as role models to these children, showing them how their own hard work has led them from similar backgrounds to high achievements. They also show the children how important it is to keep a firm hold on one’s cultural roots.

    For the first time in their lives, the children have been able to see the wonders of Namibia that have previously been out of their reach. The screams of delight as they ran up some of the world’s highest sand dunes signified only the beginning of the incredible experiences had by all. Several of our own Namibian guides and managers serve as role models to these children, showing them how their own hard work has led them from similar backgrounds to high achievements. They also show the children how important it is to keep a firm hold on one’s cultural roots. 

    Malawi:
    The carefully structured programmes this year included traditional boat and game drives, teambuilding, games and AIDS awareness counselling. A key feature of the Malawian programme is the inclusion of as many of our own 'home-grown' guides as possible at our camps. These guides all come from the same poor rural background as the children and their success becomes a real motivational force in their lives. Lonjezo Madyero is thirteen years old and attended the Children in the Wilderness camp at Mvuu in 2004. Both of her parents have passed away and she lives with relatives in close proximity to Liwonde National Park. Due to poverty, there is poaching within the park from the local communities. While at the Children in the Wilderness Camp, Lonjezo learned about the importance of wildlife and the environment to Malawi’s economy. The camps within the park employ many people from her village, and visitors to the park bring money to the area. Lonjezo realised that income-generating activities like the "Liwonde Ladies" arts and crafts project helps to raise funds for the community and creates harmony between the communities and the national parks. Her favourite activities became the game and boat drives, and since CITW she has joined her school Wildlife Club.

    The carefully structured programmes this year included traditional boat and game drives, teambuilding, games and AIDS awareness counselling. A key feature of the Malawian programme is the inclusion of as many of our own 'home-grown' guides as possible at our camps. These guides all come from the same poor rural background as the children and their success becomes a real motivational force in their lives. Lonjezo Madyero is thirteen years old and attended the Children in the Wilderness camp at Mvuu in 2004. Both of her parents have passed away and she lives with relatives in close proximity to Liwonde National Park. Due to poverty, there is poaching within the park from the local communities. While at the Children in the Wilderness Camp, Lonjezo learned about the importance of wildlife and the environment to Malawi’s economy. The camps within the park employ many people from her village, and visitors to the park bring money to the area. Lonjezo realised that income-generating activities like the "Liwonde Ladies" arts and crafts project helps to raise funds for the community and creates harmony between the communities and the national parks. Her favourite activities became the game and boat drives, and since CITW she has joined her school Wildlife Club. 

    South Africa:
    Rocktail Beach was up first, and while the October Spring weather did not play along with sunny days, no one really minded.  33 children from the neighbouring Mqobela and Mpukane communities were hosted on a six day life skills, leadership and environmental awareness programme, aimed at equipping and shaping tomorrow’s leaders.  The programme was full and the children were kept engaged despite the mostly inclement weather. Geographically different, Rocktail Beach is not a typical safari location and some activities are unique on the CITW camp.  The boat ride, bringing the children close to humpback whales and passed dolphins, was the most exciting highlight for many of the children.  Most saw hippos for the first time ever on their outing to Lake Sibaya and they learned about traditional uses for plants, about the geology and the sustainable use of resources in the area. 

    Both the children and Rocktail staff responded incredibly well to the doctor who came to explain how HIV is spread, the ways in which we can protect ourselves from it, and how to better take care of ourselves if we do get it. 

    The hot, wet, humid weather did not deter new friendships or dampen fun as 40 children from the Makuleke community were hosted at Pafuri Camp on the CITW camp.  The children were selected members from the CITW Eco Clubs operational at the four primary schools in the community.  Quiet, rather shy children arrived, but within minutes joined the staff in the singing and dancing characteristic of Pafuri staff’s welcome. 

    The full programme was highlighted by the game drive activities (some lucky enough to spot a leopard) bird identification, Circle of Life and interdependence, visit to Deku (an old Makuleke housing site on the Pafuri Concession).

    Members of South African National Parks Anti-Poaching Unit addressed the children on sustainable conservation in Kruger National Park.  Other learning components and activities included HIV, nutrition, arts and crafts and career orientation.

    All of these topics and CITW camp interactions are underpinned with sound leadership values that include awareness, creativity, integrity, perseverance, service, focus and empathy. We believe these values are the moral fibre of all good leaders.

    Highlights for the staff at both camps ranged from having opportunity to show the children various employment possibilities in the industry to sharing the children’s excitement on game drive/boating activities.  They are always delighted at having the opportunity to share their camps with children from their communities.

    CITW SA invites a teacher from each school to attend the local camp.  Each year we host different teachers on these camps in order to increase teachers’ exposure to the CITW programme’s aims and values.  We believe this will benefit both children and teachers, now and in the future. 

    Feedback from the children, teachers and staff involved continues to show that the Children in the Wilderness programme has a real impact on the way the children think about themselves, their futures and the world around them.

    Follow-up Program

    Eco Clubs are aimed at teaching the children environmental concepts in a fun way and instil a passion for the environment and to create environmental ambassadors in the communities.  Pafuri’s CITW coordinator ran sessions at the four primary schools and the only high school in the Makuleke villages.  Topics and activities covered soil quality, pollution, waste and its management, the water cycle and the final session was a visit to the nearby Kruger National Park where the club members were addressed by a SANParks Environmental Officer on the importance of South African heritage and tourism.  This was the first time a number of children had been to the Park.  A tree-planting ceremony was held at the CITW Eco Club schools for Arbor Day 2011 and 40 indigenous trees were planted in the school grounds.

    Plans for 2012

    Our hope is that we find like-minded partners and secure more donations to enable us to focus the SA programme in 2012 to ensure an even bigger, and more sustained impact – not only on the children, but also on their communities.

    Writings by participants:

    FOLLOW THE RIVER AND YOU WILL FIND THE SEA
    By Lesego Kadisweng (Children in the Wilderness Botswana Camp – December 2004)

    "According to my school of thought, God thought he took human race out of paradise and I wonder if God is aware that there is another substitute for Eden, a paradise camp in the Okavango Delta called Kaparota, a Camp that has the very same features, as the way the garden of Eden is explained in the Bible, a camp full of love, joy, peace and prosperity, and as for the smiles. Scientifically I would say smiles here are perennial. This camp is small but it takes giant steps in every activity it does… I found it hard to think that people like the beautiful workers of Kaparota do really exist and if I was to give examples of all the good things the Kaparota staff do, you would have to give me an endless supply of tissue paper, as tears of joy want flowing down my cheek, like a river flowing from the top of Kilimanjaro." Annette – Camp Councillor Kaparota Camp – December 2004 "Kaporota Bana ba Naga 2004 was THE best thing that I have ever done. I enjoyed every minute of the programme and although I was spoilt to bits by the wildlife and birdlife, this was secondary to the experience I had with the children. I still cannot believe children can change in such a short period of time right before our eyes, nor can I believe that nearly all 67 children snuck into my heart and every time I let my mind wander I hear their voices and see their faces. Personally I have new friends and their influence has made me a more positive energised person."

    We now have our website up and running and further information can be found on http://www.childreninthewilderness.com

     

  • For the most up-to-date news on Children in the Wilderness, please go to the new CITW website News section.

    The CITW brochures in the Wilderness airplanes are receiving good attention.



    2009 Summary
    World circumstances are constantly changing and CITW's eco-curriculum is continually being evolved and developed to ensure delivery on key environmental issues, which we believe will have a material impact on the planet in the long term. It is a constant challenge as to how to teach sustainability to communities that live from hand to mouth and understandably are primarily worried about their immediate future. With this in mind, Children in the Wilderness has spent significant time and energy on staff training and will look at further finetuning the programme curriculum in 2010.

    Over the course of the past year, the programme's regional coordinators and directors revisited the long-term goals and objectives of CITW. Whilst the programme continues to be aimed at hosting rural children who live in communities alongside wilderness areas, CITW realises that if the programme is to have an impact environmentally, it will also need to include children who show leadership potential and who may be economically more advantaged in the community. In other words, the focus on the child selection criteria is less based on the child's specific economic standing within the community and now looks at leadership skills as well. CITW believes that by hosting children with leadership skills, the content of the programme will be more sustainable in the long run, as there is more chance that these children will have the wherewithal and influence to become role models for the programme within their communities.

    January 2007 - CHILDREN IN THE WILDERNESS CAMPS 2006/2007
    For Children in the Wilderness, 2006 was yet another fulfilling and wonderful year. Now in its sixth year of operation, this initiative continues to run its highly successful programmes in camps or lodges that close to paying guests in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa and now North Island in the Seychelles. In addition, Follow-up camps and programmes have been formally implemented in Botswana, Namibia and Malawi. Fundraising as always is a vital element and in 2006 two cycling events helped enormously in this regard as well as individuals who pushed themselves to the limit to raise money for the children.

    Botswana hosted a total of 96 children in November and December 2006. This took place over six separate camps where each camp operated a five-night programme.
    Malawi hosted four camps in January 2007 for a total of 96 children. Each programme ran for five nights and six days.
    Namibia hosted three camps in 2006, one follow-up camp in May with 30 participants and two other camps in December 2006, a total of 78 children.
    South Africa hosted a total of 45 children at Pafuri Camp for the second year.
    Seychelles ran its first Children in the Wilderness programme at North Island in June, hosting 36 children.

    Overall, Children in the Wilderness hosted 321 children during the 2006/2007 season.

    2007/ 2008 PLANNED CAMPS
    Botswana - In November and December 2007, another 96 children will be hosted over six camp sessions at Jacana and Kaparota Camps.

    Namibia - May/June is always camp time in Namibia and this season a second follow up camp and a new camp for street kids at Kulala Wilderness Camp will be run. We will also conduct two camps in December 2007 at Rhino Camp and hope to host at least 92 children this year.

    Malawi - Four camps will be run in December 2007, with 24 children per camp.
    South Africa - Pafuri Camp will host the third Children in the Wilderness Camp in early December 2007.
    Seychelles - Our second camp on North Island will take place on the 1-3rd of September 2007.
    Zambia - Ntemwa Camp in Kafue National Park is coming on board as our newest CITW camp in 2007.

    For more details of each country's events, please go to the website - www.childreninthewilderness.com

    Sounds of Contentment: Children in the Wilderness - Pafuri
    Ilana Stein, December 2006

    Wilderness Safaris' Children in the Wilderness programme took place for the second time at Pafuri Camp in the Kruger National Park during the first week of December and I was lucky enough to be there for some of it. There was an exceptional atmosphere this year, as the young participants are members of the Makuleke people, to whom the Makuleke Concession in which Pafuri resides belongs. Just a few of my impressions:

    The second Children in the Wilderness at Pafuri Camp seemed to be suffused with song, from traditional Makuleke refrains to kwaito and rock. As youngsters moved from one activity to the next, first one, then the next would begin singing, and before long the whole group had joined in, moving rhythmically in song and dance. And the Pafuri staff, themselves from Makuleke would wholeheartedly join in; when they chanted a plaintive melody (complete with harmonisation and stamping of feet) the sound seemed to echo through the nyalaberry trees and float down the river, as if it had always belonged to this place, but had been waiting until now to join with the cry of the Fish Eagle and the barks of the baboons.

    The programme began with song, so it is natural that it continued in that fashion. The children arrived on a sweltering Monday afternoon and were welcomed by the entire Pafuri staff (who, faced with "their" children, are twice as enthusiastic as usual if that's possible) singing a rousing welcome to them. They were then given a backpack filled with goodies, including brightly coloured Children in the Wilderness T-shirts and bandannas, so that the browns and greens of the bush exploded with colour and sound.

    Energetic councillors soon had the children swimming, throwing balls, racing each other - the harshness or problems of life forgotten as pure fun reigned. There were heartfelt shrieks in the turning circle as half the group zigzagged this way and that to catch the other half, while on the deck all raced for a chair in time-honoured Musical Chairs. Twanging and drumming sounds emanated from the River Boma where a group were making their own musical instruments from shoeboxes and tins - there are definitely many budding artists and musicians in this bunch! The "serious" aspect was built into the games and included discussions on abuse, HIV/AIDS and "Pain in a box" - where each child drew something that troubled them; this was folded up and placed in a box which was then ceremonially burnt that evening.

    Makhosini is a return participant - he was at the first Pafuri programme a year ago - and is thrilled to be back. Why, I asked? His eyes light up - he's excited to be back in his nice bed and he can't wait to go on a game drive! He's also enjoying having a few friends from his village with him, who respectfully defer to him as the "expert"; I watched as he explained to them that the dark animal drinking from the river was a male nyala and no, it wouldn't bite them.

    Of course the highlight for many youngsters was the game drive, and it was an education joining a bunch of excited youngsters on their first drive out into the bush. They stared avidly at impala lambs, and their guide, Enos, told them in Shangaan how to tell the difference between male and female nyala. Every animal, bird or tree that he pointed out got marked off industriously on species lists or laboriously written down in increasingly well-thumbed notebooks. Soon they all entered into the spirit of the thing, yelling "Stop!" whenever they saw something they wanted identified - including every bird!

    I lent those around me my binoculars and that was another new experience. Polight, a nine-year-old, gave a great "Oh!" of surprise when the tiny impala in the distance became life-size in an instant.

    That night, four teams had to build a boat out of sticks and plastic bottles and then get them to race across the swimming pool. The noise was incredible, the winners effervescent and afterwards there was much heated discussion and howls of laughter. My knowledge of the Shangaan language is a little shaky to say the least so instead I just let the tone and timbre of lilting voices, excited laughter, intense discussion, bravado and good-natured teasing wash over me. After all, one doesn't need a dictionary to translate happiness and contentment.

    FIRST CHILDREN IN THE WILDERNESS TAKES PLACE ON NORTH ISLAND
    June 2006

    For a few days in June, North Island - one of Wilderness Safaris' premier lodges - closed its doors to paying guests to give a group of 36 disadvantaged Seychellois children the time of their lives. It was the first ever Children in the Wilderness on North Island and hopefully the beginning of many more!

    North Island staff teamed up with The National Council for Children, an organisation on Mahe, to run the programme, the only project of its kind in the Seychelles.

    With 33% of the population under the age of 18, Seychelles has an urgent need to improve the quality of life of its children as well as to inspire them to care for their environment. The Children in the Wilderness programme was designed with these concerns in mind and included educating the children in marine and land-based environmental issues pertinent to Seychelles. It also aimed to educate the children on social, health, environmental and moral issues.

    It was three and a half days filled with laughter, the most incredible energy and endless learning for both children and adults involved. From the moment the children dug their feet into the sand at East Beach and were welcomed onto North Island, their lives changed. It is difficult to imagine the suffering that these children have had to endure, yet they threw themselves into everything with the single-minded happiness that only children can.

    The opening day was attended by the First Lady of the Seychelles, Nathalie Michel, who remarked, "North Island's environmental philosophy and the National Council for Children's 'living values' programmes come together today to give us all the opportunity to reflect a bit more on what we want for our children in Seychelles today, and what our children want from us." Mrs. Michel, who participated in the first few games with the children, concluded, "I often think that it is a great experience to be able to teach something to a child, and even a greater experience to learn something from one!"