For several weeks each year, Wilderness Safaris closes down some of their luxury camps in prime locations in Southern Africa to host Children in the Wilderness.
For several weeks each year, Wilderness Safaris closes down some of their luxury camps in prime locations in Southern Africa to host Children in the Wilderness. Why? Because the camp will be taken over by small groups of primary school children from disadvantaged areas, invited by Wilderness to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of their environmental heritage.
The experience offered by Children in the Wilderness is a very personal one; preliminary findings from recent evaluations in Botswana suggest that children who come on these camps leave with a heightened sense of self-esteem that serves them well in all spheres of their lives.
I asked Helena Faasen, co-ordinator of Children in the Wilderness in Botswana, how it all works: At no cost to their families or schools, children and an accompanying teacher spend five nights in the camp, enjoying the good food and facilities.
They interact closely with the natural environment through game drives, boat rides and walks led by expert local guides. Children quickly gain an admiration for these adults, born and raised in their own communities, and lap up the knowledge they share on geology, ecology, wildlife, conservation and tourism. Health issues including nutrition and HIV/AIDS are also covered, and plenty of time allocated to fun through sports and craft. But learning new things is only part of the story: the safe and supportive environment created in the camp enables children to discover their own unique strengths and develop new talents and interests.
Late in 2009, Helena and her team received a letter, hand-written on paper torn from a diary, from a young man named Goitseone who works as a waiter in one of the Wilderness luxury camps. He wrote to tell them that the two Children in the Wilderness camps he attended between the ages of 12 and 15 years have had a profound impact on his life, and of his plans to contribute to future camps by producing a DVD on the culture of people living in the Delta.
Children experience the Okavango Delta ecosystem
Goitseone’s letter contains an important message. While the focus of the camp is the natural environment, children’s exploration of their physical world is accompanied by opportunity for renewed appreciation of their cultural roots and social systems. The healthy functioning of these two spheres are of course mutually interdependent. One of the highlights for youngsters coming on camps in Botswana is the cultural evening where they dance, sing and listen to older people talking about their heritage, and about traditions of respect shown by younger people to their elders. Whatever cultural knowledge children bring to the camp is positively re-enforced, some gaps are filled, and children are then equipped with greater knowledge in which to choose how they practice their community’s traditions.
Aware of the significance of robust mentoring relationships between the young campers and adult facilitators, the co-ordinators of Children in the Wilderness Botswana invite staff working in the camps and resident in neighbouring villages to fill this role. Many waiters, cleaners, gardeners and handy-men come forward to offer their enthusiasm, knowledge and ready rapport with children. Within a day or two, first-time campers bond with their mentors, and are in a strong position to embrace the new and challenging experiences offered at camp.
Children learn about lion conservation
Over the year following a camp, adult facilitators visit children at their schools once per term to further the mentoring and learning processes begun on camp, and to support the activities of the school environmental clubs. In this way, Children in the Wilderness offers young people a profound connection with their environment and heritage that becomes a solid foundation for personal growth and community development.
To find out more, or contribute to the work of Children in the Wilderness, Botswana, please contact Helena Faasen using the form below. Read more about Children in the Wilderness, Malawi, in our story 'Voices from Malawi'.
Author: Rachel Bray
Published Date: 14 Jun 2010
Location: Southern Africa | Botswana
Themes: natural world, society | conservation, education, social development, HIV, youth