On Friday 30 November, 49 excited boys between the ages of 6 and 17 arrived at Roodeplaat Nature Reserve, for an unforgettable weekend. The SOAPkidz (Sunrise on Africa’s Peaks Kidz) volunteers, who organized the camp, were equally excited that this camp would turn out to be something great.
The boys came from various children’s homes and places of safety and didn’t know each other. They were divided into teams, deliberately mixing up kids from various ages, races and backgrounds, to get to know each other and learn to work together as a team and respect each other from the get go. The first task was to pick a team name, elect a team leader, and build a team mascot using various odd objects that was collected from recycled material. This mascot had to be protected and present at all activities throughout the weekend. The creativity of the kids was highlighted as dogs, monsters, rockets and funny looking heads took shape in the mascots. Later in the evening they attended a very informative presentation on bats, learned about the uses of citronella oil and made their own insect repellent. The boys were sent to bed after dinner, as the lantern crawl had to be cancelled due to heavy rain.
On Saturday morning, the day kicked off with exercises at 5 o’clock. Breakfast was made in the veldt, where each team had to cook their own porridge before starting an enduring 4,5 km hike to the base camps. Spirits were high and the team cries could be heard along the way with only nature and a few zebras, springbucks and bush pigs to answer.
Arriving at the base camps, which were presented at the picnic area by the dam, there was no rest for tired feet, as activities started immediately. On a rotational basis, teams took turn in learning about first aid; preparing their own “potjie” for supper that evening, using vegetables and meat of their choice; painting team t-shirts; cleaning up the area around the dam; navigating blindfolded persons through an obstacle course while on a wheelchair; and many more fun challenges. Lunch was once again “home made”, as the boys made dough for their own stok-bread, added a few viennas and sticks, and voila – we had hotdogs!
After all the activities were completed, the teams and volunteers hiked back to camp along the edge of the dam, picking up litter, while navigating through rocks, reeds and bushes. At camp, they had some time to add the last herbs and spices to their “potjies” according to their taste. While the potjies were cooking, the teams had to set a table, complete with centerpiece and other decorations, using their imagination and things they could find in nature and around camp. Once again it was amazing to see what the guys came up with, given the chance to think freely. They hadn’t a moment to spare, as they also had to work on a concert for the evening.
Mr Neil Lewis from, PetroSA, who sponsored the camp, arrived from Cape Town, to judge the potjies and table settings. The deliberation took a while, as each potjie tasted differently, and it was very difficult to choose a winner. Eventually all the kids and volunteers could also tuck in, and it must have been good, as everyone went back for seconds and thirds. Mr (name?) thanked the SOAPkidz team and congratulated the children on their excellent work and pledged T-shirts and gifts for the kids, as well as a promise to attend a camp himself next year.
After dinner, it was time for the concert, which resulted in singing, dancing, great laughs and loud applauding. It was clear that the kids in each team knew each other well by this time, as they used each other’s talents wisely in the concert. The boys, who still had some energy left, went on a night hike, while the others went to bed for a well deserved rest.
Sunday morning, every one could ”lie in”, as exercises only started at six. After breakfast, base camp activities included bird watching; air rifle shooting and solving some brain teasers. The boys also made soap balls; bags out of newspapers and learned how to build wooden picture frames. As the camp started coming to an end, the teams had to pack up and clean their rooms, before lunch. The prize giving rounded off the camp, with prizes for the best teams in their respective categories.
Although the camp was characterized throughout by smiles from the boys and volunteers, it had to end with gloomy goodbyes. They left with good memories and some newly acquired skills to take back home, to their harsh realities. Although these boys come from abusive and unloved backgrounds, they really rose to the challenge of becoming leaders, loving themselves, and respecting others and nature on this camp. As the SOAPkidz motto states: “Because, it’s magic when kidz and nature meet” this was reinforced, in the wishes from the kids, that they hoped to come again soon.