This past week we stayed and worked at the Rocklands Centre in Simons Town. Little did we know the week we were about to encounter!
At the Rocklands Centre, Johnson & Wales hosted a 5 day camp for the 6th graders from the Mimosa Primary School located in Bonteheuwel - about an hour drive from Fish Hoek where we are staying. The kids that live in the town come from a very close knit community where at times you’ll find parents, kids, aunts, and grandparents all living in the same home. Some come from broken homes and difficult financial situations where at times they have to live off of R200 (just $20!) to support their families for the week. We had no idea of the impact that this camp would have on these children.
We started our week on Monday with orientation to familiarize ourselves with the grounds, activities of the camp, and settle into our chalets. We were divided into four teams in order to better lead the 62 campers. My team was the red team and claimed Germany as our country. Later when the campers arrived the next day, we declared ourselves the “Red Rangers!” and made matching red bracelets and a fun war cry to motivate our campers. After lunch we went through the initiatives course - a series of 9 obstacles and challenges that incorporate teamwork and communication. Even for us, as adults some of the challenges took some time to think through and figure out so we were excited to see how our 6th graders would do. We ended our evening early after finishing camp preparations and final orientations.
Tuesday morning started early; the campers were scheduled to arrive at 10am and there was much to still prepare. We finalized our welcome dance and were ready to meet our campers. In case you’re wondering, our welcome dance consisted of the Gangnam style, the YMCA, and the Cotton-Eyed Joe! Once the campers arrived the rest of the week was a blur. Breakfast was at 8am each day and lights out by 10:30 - don’t for a second think they were asleep by then! Everyone who had to perform chalet duty knows the difficulties in trying to calm down rowdy 6th graders after a fun day at camp. Although, we all faced some obstacles like trying to make our campers work as one, controlling hormones and attitudes, and trying to connect and understand our campers. We realized we had been successful at providing a fun time at camp when at the end of the closing ceremonies Thursday night all our campers started to cry. They continued to cry as they left the chapel, while they returned to their chalets, and even returned outside to cry where they were once again comforted. The emotion and their resistance to return home made us realize the importance of the camp to them.
The camp means more to them than just a fun time. It’s a chance for them to get away from the harsh realities of their hometown. It’s a chance to empower them and show them that if you work hard anything can be achieved. Some of these kids come from homes where they are constantly put down but this camp provided a different perspective. Things that were promised were made come true and it showed them that some people can be dependable. If even for just a few days, this camp made an impact. It’s something they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives.
Yesterday, we visited the Mimosa Primary School and were able to see what school was like everyday for the students. It is small yet accommodating. At the end of our visit, Johnson & Wales presented the school with a $2,000 donation (about 20,000 rand). Their gratitude and love for Johnson & Wales is something felt by everyone and the impact that we make on them and their students is visible throughout. Mimosa Primary School will forever be a special place for all of us.