The life skills development camp took place from the 9th to the 13th of December 2013 at Rest Haven in Glen Forest. 53 children, 17 boys and 36 girls aged from 8 to 18 years participated in the camp. They were grouped according to ages: 8 to 10; 11 to 13, 14 to 15, and 16 to 18 years respectively as they participated in the life skills sessions. It was pleasing to see the children unwind and learn so many skills.
Youth Skills Camp Highlights:
Children learnt self-expression through drama and dance. The boys and girls simply told their stories shared their own anxieties and happy moments as they acted on stage. They told their own life experiences. Our mentors Ngoda and Star who are graduates from the University of Zimbabwe worked patiently with the boys and girls and all of us mentors to simply let go and participate in drama and dance.
The sexual and reproductive Health and HIV sessions revealed how little discussion takes place, if at all, about sexual and reproductive health in households. The issues of prevention of teenage pregnancy, HIV and AIDS remained taboo although the children had heard about these topics and were dealing with some of the issues. The boys and girls identified words and phrases that made it easier to talk about physical body changes and how these impacted their roles in society. Children took turns to present their body maps and share their anxieties. On the last day the youngest group of girls and boys expressed how determined they were not to let anyone tough their ‘private parts’. They learnt that they would report any such attempt. ‘Uncle’ from SAfAIDS supported the discussions and provided toolkits for the girls and boys to take home for further reference. Individual counselling and support was given accordingly. The senior boys and girls had a chance to discuss entering into and managing relationships, issues of delaying sexual debut, prevention of STI, HIV infections and early pregnancies.
Tete and Pinky, mentors from Norton led the environmental management sessions. Tete took the groups into the woodlands to help girls and boys to learn how to identify with nature and how to preserve the environment. The health and hygiene became a cross cutting topic in almost all other topics. Personal and environmental hygiene were learnt as well as practiced throughout the workshop. This session extended to identification of local foods and fruits. Mush supported Tete and Pinky discussed with the girls and boys about how to have a nutritious meal a day in correct amounts.
Kiki, Bea and Petty led the spiritual care spiritual care sessions supported by Beatrix and got the boys and girls asking themselves about how to live an honest and purposeful life. Some learnt how to pray and discussed how they express their spirituality. This uncovered some of the stories they learnt from their religious leaders, elders in their families and communities. One child had struggled to integrate with others during dance and drama because of his spiritual practices that prohibited members from expressing themselves through theatre, music, and dance. Towards the end of the week, the boy had come out of his cocoon and found his own space to participate in drama and even offered to give a vote of thanks on the last day of the camp.
Literacy and lateral thinking was led by Madhawu and Monkey. Children practiced reading and telling stories. Some found it hard to stand in front of their peers to read or tell a story. Before the end of the camp a combination of the literacy and lateral thinking with the drama and dance helped the girls and boys build confidence and participate freely.
There were a number of team building exercises inherent in the skills development methodology. The use of a score board became popular in reinforcing team spirit, the sense of belonging and not letting each other down. Sparky and MD led some team building exercises that helped the boys and girls build trust and gain confidence in belonging to a group. This was very useful for those who are heading households as the boys and girls found themselves parenting other children without any clue how to manage this. By the end of their stay each child had reflected on their daily activities. Reflection included how to deal with challenges through planning and prioritising their daily activities. They drew their daily plans with daily chores including time to play, eat, go to school, etc. Sparky made the outdoor games popular as he made all of us participate in early morning exercises, swimming and football, netball and volleyball. We only had five children who could swim and yet everyone wanted to swim! As expected the children were all eager to learn to swim even though most did not have swimming costumes or briefs. ‘Monkey’ and Petty realised that nothing will stop a child who is motivated or encouraged. They had to support the girls and boys learn to swim or at least play in the pool
Vocational skills and career guidance helped the boys and girl express their dreams. Each mentor took it in turns to work with their groups and discuss children’s aspirations. We took time to work with cloth off-cuts to make mats, wall hangings and other artefacts. By the time we left camp we all had worked hard to have an artefact to take home.
The last day of camp was met with mixed feelings most girls and boys were asking if they could stay a bit longer. As the Mukuvisi Woodlands bus drew in, tears were shed by both the mentors and the children. One chap had asked if he could come home with one of the mentors. Some expressed how they would not only miss the company of other children and the activities but wished they could continue to have a square meal every day. It was clearly an action packed week and all of us look forward to continue working with the boys and girls from Norton. We hope to take another group to camp in a couple of months. In the meantime some of the activities will continue as part of youth club activities during the school term.