The universal language of play and fun immediately broke down any barriers.
– Sibahle Mncwango
I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Children in the Wilderness (CITW) Tri-Nations Camp, held in Mapungubwe National Park, South Africa. Out of everything I had imagined, I did not envisage an experience that could be so genuine, and make me feel so connected.
We arrived on the evening of 10 December, and 30 seconds after we exchanged greetings with the camp staff, I was squinting in the dark, checking to see if what I was looking at was truly a snake! Now that is what you call a grand welcome to an adventurous camp. The snake was small enough not to give me nightmares, but alive enough to get my adrenaline pumping.
It didn’t take much for me to forget the little guy – there was simply too much to take in. Mapungubwe is magnificent. I stood at the edge of the wooden fence looking into the pitch-black night, breathing in the sweet scent of rain-infused soil, while soaking up the richness of life around me.
It was obvious that I would have an unforgettable week.
The children arrived the next morning. I stood there awkwardly, not sure if I was quite ready to let the inner-kid in me come out to play. Needless to say, by the end of the day I found myself singing, playing and dancing freely.
The camp brings together the CITW Eco-Club members from Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe who live within the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA). The children were so different, and yet so similar, it almost felt like there were no borders between them. The universal language of play and fun immediately broke down any barriers that might have stood between them.
My words fail to give justice to the experiences I got to be part of, or properly explain the kind of happy emotions that stirred within me each moment I got to spend with the learners. I will never forget the way their faces lit up when they received their CITW backpacks – which had a toothbrush, toothpaste, bath soap, deodorant, two crisp clean CITW t-shirts, a pair of shorts and a full stationery set, with pencils, crayons, colours pencils etc. This made sure that not one child would feel out of place.
We went on two game drives, and there was much to see: giraffe, elephant, warthog, blue wildebeest, impala, kudu, baboon and zebra. Besides these sightings, I spotted so many other smaller critters – I think I saw more than I would have usually been perceptive to, due to my heighted state of mindfulness from being in the wilderness. A snake, giant white spider, scorpion, porcupine, Kori bustard and a large monitor lizard left me frozen on the spot in a weird state of excitement and fear. The reptile was fast, beautiful and… the biggest lizard I have ever laid my eyes on!
The entire programme was strategically balanced between game drives, presentations and educational games. The games encouraged team building, analytical and communication skills. I watched the children scramble over each other as they desperately tried to survive the ‘sinking ship’. I worked twice as hard to hold back the strong urges I had to help them as they carried each other through the ‘spider’s web’ – I was fighting with my motherly instinct to always offer help and protection, even when it was not needed! But these kids amazed me each time.
On the final night the children had to compete in three groups in a quiz show. The tension was as thick as a fog, as groups whispered amongst each other discussing answers. I witnessed how much they had bonded over the three days, team work was at its best as they rattled off answers to questions relating to the camp activities, lessons and game drives.
They no longer held back, it was like watching a butterfly take flight for the very first time – and what a beautiful sight it was.
Written by Sibahle Mncwango, Sustainability Communications Copywriter