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Borakalalo National Park Camp

By Sharron Reynolds

Karen was off to do some interesting mountain traverse or other and left me with a floury of e-mails about who to contact, which homes were participating, and Megan’s contact details to finalize arrangements. All was going well and on track till Thursday mid afternoon when one of the homes had to cancel their kids. A frantic call to Theo and Salome and we were set to go.

On Friday morning the 27th April at 06:00 Theo picked up 11 eager Kids from Danville for a fun weekend at Borakalalo National Park. Salome arrived at my place at 5.30 with two extra kids and we set off to meet Theo and Frans just outside Britz. With 11 kidz packed into 2 vehicles Frans and Theo were pleased for the prearranged pit stop where the kids were given coffee and sandwiches as a breakfast snack and a chance to stretch their legs re-arrange travel companions and get rid of a little energy. None of us knew what to expect because we had entrusted all activity arrangements to Megan and her assistants, this was going to be a new experience for all of us. Luckily the directions we had been given to Borakalalo were perfect and we found our way without any difficulties.

We arrived at the gates of Borakalalo just before 9 right on time for the Game rangers expect for one snag: The driver from SOS Ennerdale got lost some where with his 15 kids. After waiting for a little over half an hour at the gates it was decided to head off to the Camping spot to start setting up tents etc and rather send someone back to fetch the other kids when they arrived, not 30 sec after the decision was made and we had all started rounding up the kids who had found a soccer ball and were quite oblivious to the delay the bus finally arrived.

The Camping spot was beautiful camouflaged in circles of trees. But no peace and tranquillity for us as we had to set up camp, get the kids divided into teams with name tags all ready for the Game rangers. This was no easy task as the original camp had been arranged around having 26 kids aged between 6 and 9 years, with the sudden need to find the additional 9 kids on Thursday evening we had ended up with a group of 28 kids ranging from 6 to 16 not ideal for the activities planned by the rangers who adapted without a flinch. We were surprised to hear, when the Game Rangers first introduced themselves, that they were the “elite” anti poaching unit, and that they were all doing this on a voluntary basis. They have so much passion that they are willing to give up there personal time on a regular basis to patrol and guard the various parks the work in. Listening to the planned programme both us and the kids were in for a fun filled educational weekend.

Little did Rusty, Megan and the rest of the game rangers realize just what they had let themselves in for and think they got a shock of their lives, but they didn’t have time to ponder on it or to regroup they just had to swim to shore which they masterly did. Plans didn’t go quite as they or we expected due to unforeseen circumstances, but we all adapted quickly and the show went on. The kids started of with a game of finding their shoes which for some turned into a great game and for others it was bit traumatic. Once again it was obvious that no matter how often we ask, how we explain neither kids nor house moms pay much attention and there were several kids in slops and sandals – not the ideal footwear to hike though thick thorny open bush. But there was no way any of them were prepared to let this stop them.

The rangers took them into the bushes around the camp site for a bit of a brain teaser learning session, which seemed to break the ice and helped to get the rangers and kids to bond. The groups had to put their heads together to find a way to cross an imaginary river in flood with only a few ropes and rudimental tools at their disposal. With lots of encouragement and a bit of help from the rangers the group quickly got the hang of it and were able to build their bridge over the river without to many “drowning”. They had a lot of fun with this and getting the whole group across was a great bonding experience and gave them a major boost to self esteem. Next was another rope puzzle to solve. This also took them a while to figure out and also taught them to work together as a team. A short break for lunch gave the Rangers a welcome break and time to re-group and adjust to the changes to their well laid plans. This was my first experience on kitchen duty, what an eye opener, as they had dad sandwiches not 2 hours earlier I was confidant there would be more than enough but after the smallest had come back for 3rds I was glad I had been warned to prepare for 40 and not 26. After lunch the big sports started. We all got transported to a more secluded area in the reserve. There the kids were in for a wonderful surprise. They were going to play with paintball guns, but with a snag. There targets were not other teams but the Game Rangers. The Kids enjoyed this as they could shoot the adults and nobody shot back. The bigger surprise was when they found out that they had to hike back to camp but not one of them complained and the chatter all the way back to the camp although frustrating for the Rangers who had plans to show them the animals was great for the kids and ended up being great for the Rangers as they then concentrated on teaching the kids about some of the more interesting plants and trees to be found in the reserve.

26 exhausted kids and their more exhausted adult supervisors arrived at campsite after an hour or more of hiking back to camp. Luckily supper was ready and that put a smile on everybody’s face. After supper we hiked again and got a wonderful lesson in star gazing. The kids were glad when we reach camp at last and they could go to sleep. This has to have been the first camp I have ever been on when the kids happily retired to their tents and with in minutes there was total silence – we had been worried about staying awake to keep an eye on the boys and girls but all were so exhausted the only thing on their minds was a good nights sleep. Saturday morning early we had to rise and shine to go for an early morning newspaper reading. This is not your normal Saturday Morning Beeld or Pretoria News, No this was actually real spoor reading. The Rangers taught the kids how to see what had happened during the night, and what animal have been there and which animal was there first and which one the last. This was amazing to experience first hand with the rangers. The kids asked a lot of questions and were intrigued by how easy is to read nature’s signs. The next lesson was how to survive in nature even if you have nothing with you. How to spot poisonous plants and plants that will keep you alive. How to find water and lots more.

The next fun session was for them to cross a real river. This was a site to see how some kids started afraid and once the first few had made it across safely they could see that it great fun and possible to cross a river with ropes. Once started it was hard to get them to stop, but leaving them to swim and play in the river soon got their attention diverted and boy did it help them to work up an appetite for lunch. After lunch the Rangers taught the kids how to start a fire with sticks and grass, and they then had to cook an egg. This was a lot of fun for the kids though only one group got their egg to boil without it being cracked. The rest had a few egg explosions and found out how not to boil an egg on an open fire. The day ended with a late afternoon hike and a camp fire concert for those who still had the will and the energy. Some of the older boys managed to stay awake and keep the adults around the fire company but not for long. Sunday morning was another early news paper session with the kids being allowed to show off their new found “newspaper reading “ skills. We tracked a Rhino for some distance, but unfortunately were a little noisy and not actually get to see it. One of the groups did see a giraffe, and that had the children talking for a while, and with the help of the Rangers those that were afraid of the giraffe were soon as excited about having seen one.

Back at camp another excellent lesson by the Game Rangers followed breakfast. They taught the kids all about the Rhinos, the differences between the whit and black Rhino, the important part they play in the natural regeneration of grasslands, about the damage caused by poachers and about why it is so important to preserve nature. The kids had a lot of questions and it was amazing to see what they had picked up from the previous days lessons.

After that it was prize giving. Megan went out of her way to get sponsors for the kids. They all received lovely prizes from the rangers and, as usual the prize for the most litter, which was a real close one with one team with 4 bags and the other with 5 bags. This is an incredibly clean park but even so it was amazing to see how much litter still managed to be picked up – even the Rangers were surprised at the lengths some of the kids went to, to “find” litter.

Then it was time to pack up and get ready to go back home. Not a happy face amongst the kids all wanted to stay “just one more day Pleeeeees”

Another eventful but fun weekend for the SOAPkidz and the Crew. A big THANK YOU to Rusty, Megan and their wonderful team. The Anti Poaching Unit really taught the kids a lot about nature and how to respect nature. On the way back one of the kids said that he would like to join the anti pouching unit and shoot the people that are cruel to animals. Once again we just broaden their horizon. From SOAPkidz side a Special Thanks to Rusty, Megan and their crew, to Glenys, Sharron, Andries, Cynthia, Sonja, Frans and Cecile. You all made the camp worth it.

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