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School Camps

Environment Camps Change Perspective for Life

When 13-year-old Lungelo reveals the meaning of his Zulu name in English, he says it with so much pride.

“My name is Lungelo and it means, I have a right.”

Self-assured, loud and proud.

While attending the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization environmental camp in KwaZulu Natal, the Grade 13 student from Isithumba’s Ndunakazi Primary School has come out of his shell in three days.

He confidently shares his new-found knowledge on conservation and camp experience.

“The bus trip was fun – I was so hungry when I arrived,” Lungelo says, laughing.
“It has been so exciting being away from home, I could not really sleep the whole camp."

“I have been looking forward to learning more about the environment and over the last few days I have learnt about the conservation of animals and that we should not hunt them – we want these animals in our future.”

Another thing Lungelo has taken on-board during the brief but intensive excursion, is the message about sorting litter into the three Rs – recycle, reuse, reduce.

“At home, we dig a hole and throw it all in there, but I will ask mum if we can sort the rubbish, and not throw the plastic away as it gets into the waterways, and the animals eat it.”

Lungelo is just one of 55 students from Ndunakazi Primary School, who travelled two hours from home to attend this camp at Nyala Pans, in the Umkomaas Valley.

For most of the students, it is their first time being away from home and their families.

KwaZulu Natal, known for its winding rivers, lush vegetation and the Drakensberg mountain range that juts out of the earth like a dragon’s spine.

Rolling green hills encase this beautiful mountain range with its numerous valleys and towering cliffs.

It is also the land of the Zulu, the largest ethnic group and nation in South Africa with an estimated 10–12 million people, living mainly in the province.

Over time populations grew and natural areas have diminished.

Poverty and an oppressive political system have severed the connection of communities with natural areas.

As the traditional custodians of wild areas, communities have increasingly become reliant on the rapidly diminishing resources in these natural areas.

Yvette Taylor, executive director at Earth Organization, says to effectively restore natural areas, people need to reconnect with the natural world.

“This is where the idea of hosting these camps came about,” she says.

“We envisaged taking learners from rural and semiurban areas back to nature to get back in touch with the natural world and being educated about the environment while immersed in it.”

Made possible through the support of non-profit group the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization and Tanglewood Foundation, these camps aim to bring about a fundamental change in the youth so they understand their relationship with the natural world and their responsibility in its preservation.

“Annually we take 600 Grade 7 learners from 20 underprivileged schools in KwaXimba and Eston on a two-night, three-day environmental school camp at Nyala Pans,” Yvette explains.

“The learners, who are selected through an art and essay writing competition, would not typically gain this opportunity due to their economic circumstance.

“They are educated and empowered on environmental and conservation issues as well as gaining leadership skills – these young people get an opportunity to be in nature and learn how they can have a positive impact on the world.”

Camp activities include orienteering, water studies, night walk and discussing sustainable wildlife management and mixed farming, confidence course, rafting, and team building games.

“For many it instils a sense of pride, dignity and self-worth,” Yvette says.

South Africa is a long way from home for New Zealander Peter Eastwood, a philanthropist who has an immense love for his adopted country, its people and the wildlife.  

His organisation Tanglewood Foundation supports a variety of causes focused on preserving the environment, including these camps.  

Peter says supporting them is basic, grass roots conservation.

“We can’t have conservation without community engagement and commitment and we cannot expect people to restore and conserve things they don’t understand,” he adds.

Accompanying Lungelo and fellow Ndunakazi students to this camp, is teacher Thokozani Zondi.

He has attended several camps previously and says the experience is invaluable for his students.

Changed behaviour back at school from those who have attended camp is a common sight.

“The students return to school, willing to work in a team; their confidence is boosted; and are aware of the environment around them, taking the disposal of litter seriously, while having a new appreciation for nature and wildlife,” Thokozani says.

Students also have a desire to learn more about nature, animals and trees, so Thokozani is exploring ways to introduce interesting lessons at school, he adds.

“Creating awareness in terms of the environment starts with the kids, and when they go home, they pass on the messages to their family – these young people are leading by example.”

Students benefit in so many ways from environment camps, but one major one, is having the opportunity to reclaim their childhood.

Some of the students come from broken homes and have endured more than  young children should have to, Thokozani says.

“It is so great seeing these kids so happy, full of confidence and assured they are all equal at camp.”

Without a doubt, environment camps are having a positive impact, with learnings and benefits from the camps extending far beyond the children who attend.

The learners emerge empowered, and strong in their belief they need to protect the environment for future generations.

And like Lungelo’s name suggests, they all have a right to create and live in a cleaner, safer, greener world.

By Michelle Curran

If you are interested in funding future environment camps, email yvette@earthorganization.org