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South Africa Winter Camp 2002

Project Dates: June 30-July 14, 2002

Participants of the 2002 South Africa Camp

South African Winter Camp Report

René Dean from Melbourne, Australia, and Laetitia Bernal from Bordeaux, France participated in a two-week United Youth Corps program in South Africa from June 30th to July 14th, 2002. After long flights from Europe and Australia, the ladies arrived in Johannesburg by June 30th for what would be two very full weeks.

South African church office manager, and church elder Neil Becker and his wife Erlene had kindly arranged for René and Laetitia to visit the Pilanesburg game reserve, two hours’ drive north of Johannesburg. The group, which also included UCG elder Joel Meeker and his family, in South Africa to help staff the South African Youth Camp, left Johannesburg Monday morning, July first, for Pilanesburg. Mr. Becker had rented a van, which allowed everyone to sit higher off the ground so as to better see the game.

Upon arrival, René and Laetitia settled into their shared safari tent at the Manyane Lodge, which would be home for the next 4 days. July is mid-winter in South Africa, and temperatures can be quite cold, dropping to around freezing at night. The tents were unheated, so everyone needed lots of blankets.

From Tuesday until the Friday, the group went out for game drives, usually starting at 6:30 in the morning, the time when the gates to the game park officially open. Leaving at first light allowed for the possibility of finding predators, such as lions, on a fresh kill. In addition to viewing game from the van (called a “combi” in South Africa), the group stopped from time to time to enter “hides”, called “blinds” in the US. These are solid structures situated near water holes, and are equipped with open viewing windows. The hides also have entrances hidden from the animals’ view. This allows people to enter and sit in the hide and observe game without being seen. During stops at hides, Mrs. Becker supplied hot beverages and “rusks” (a traditional South African hard bread perfect for dipping in coffee, tea or hot chocolate), which were always welcome in the cool morning temperatures.

The variety and amount of game to be seen was impressive. Among other herbivores, René and Laetitia saw large herds of impala, as well as groups of kudu (a large antelope species whose males have long spiraled horns), bushbuck, waterbuck, klipspringer, steenbok, giraffe, warthog, zebra, and the comical wildebeest (sometimes called the clown of the African planes, because of their sometimes strange behavior). Some herbivores can be dangerous to people. There were many white rhinoceros to be seen as well. At one point the safari group observed 8 all together around a mud hole. One male rhino didn’t appreciate the van being close to the group and chased the humans off (one doesn’t argue with a rhinoceros…). We also saw hippos in several of the reserve lakes.

We had the chance to see many carnivores including jackals, and a large pride of lions. We were able to watch the lion pride for over an hour, and they lazily paralleled a road. The young lions practiced stalking each other as well as their mothers, so their antics were very entertaining.

Thursday we had the unusual opportunity of spotting a pack of wild dogs, the rarest of the predators in South Africa, on a recent kill. They were pulling in different directions on the skin of a dead wildebeest, as scavenger birds waited their turn. Spotting wild dogs is a very unusual occurrence, so this was a special treat.

René Dean and Laetitia Bernal at the Lapalala Camp

That evening part of the safari group went on a night game drive. Sitting under several blankets to stave off the cold in an open safari vehicle equipped with spotlights, René and Laetitia were able to see elephants up close, rhino browsing at night, and had the impressive experience of seeing two brown hyenas (now very rare) fighting over territory. Friday the whole group headed back to Johannesburg for the weekend. René and Laetitia stayed with the Naudé family in Johannesburg.

Sabbath services were spent with the Johannesburg congregation. Saturday night final preparations were made for the start of the South African Youth Camp the next day.

Sunday morning there was a 7:30 departure from “Jo-burg” for the four-hour drive to the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, the largest privately owned natural reserve in South Africa. Upon arrival at the Wilderness School in the Lapalala Reserve, the 23 campers were divided into 4 sleeping dorms, and then into 3 different coed groups for daytime activities. René and Laetitia acted as counselors each in a daytime walking group, and also acted as counselors for a girls dorm at night.

Sunday afternoon the first camp activity was a swim in the chilly Lephalala river. The Lephalala is home to crocodiles and hippos, both of which are dangerous to people, so campers and staff were only allowed to swim in rocky areas of river rapids, where these animals will not go. Campers and staff could ride the rapids down in their life jackets or on inner tubes. René showed her can-do spirit by being one of the first into the water.

Dinner that night, as with all meals during the camp, was prepared over campfires by the campers themselves. Nighttime temperatures dropped near the freezing mark, but the dorms stayed fairly warm because of the excellent insulating quality of the thatching on the dorm roofs. The camp had electricity for only a few hours each morning and evening when a generator was switched on. So “lights out” in the evening truly meant lights out.

The daily schedule began at 6:00 am with a wakeup for everyone. One walking group would be assigned to breakfast preparation. Breakfast was served at 7:00, after which each camper washed his own dishes. Morning activities began around 8:00. There was a biscuit (cookie) break near 11:00, and lunch was served around 1:00 pm. Afternoon activities filled out the rest of the day. Dinner was served after nightfall at 6:30 pm, with campers and staff sitting around a warm campfire.

There was an interactive Christian Living Class each evening, usually from 7:30 to 8:30, after which the campers had time to shower (there was hot water supplied by gas water heaters) and get ready for bed. At 9:00 everyone was expected to be in his or her dorm for dorm time, and lights out was 9:30.

The schedule of activities was as follows:



Swim, inner tubing on the river


All-day interpretive nature hike. Campers learned about the natural ecosystem of the area and the properties of different plants to be found. The hike included a climb to the top of Baboon Rock some 65 meters (200 feet) high.


Morning: Water studies class. Campers found specimens of animal life in fast-running, still and stagnant water and compared and contrasted them to learn about the role of each in the river ecosystem.

Afternoon 1: Spoor (animal track) molding. Campers and staff found deeply cut animal spoor (tracks), identified the animal by the shape of the spoor, and poured plaster of Paris into to it. They also looked for dropping of that animal so as to learn to identify that as well.

Afternoon 2: Eco-auction game where camper teams could win point by displaying their knowledge of the natural world, while learning about the natural balance in God’s creation.


Morning 1: picked up the spoor molding poured the evening before

Morning 2: canoeing on a lake. Boys and girls canoe races.

Afternoon 1: hike down to the river, lunch.

Afternoon 2: raft building activity. Campers and staff broke into groups and built rafts of natural materials found around the river. The rafts had to be at least 50 cm long, and while in the water, support the weight of a full one liter water bottle, without the water bottle getting wet. All the campers succeeded. The staff team, including Laetitia and René broke the camp record by building a raft that help 15 water bottles.

Afternoon 3: On the steep hike back up, observing and learning about rock paintings left by the Bushman people.


Morning: Conservation lecture. Campers continued to learn more about the delicate balance of nature.

Afternoon 1: Team-building obstacle course. Campers had to work together as a team to find and implement solutions to certain problems posed by obstacles. These including building and crossing bridges, going through giant “spider webs” without touching the strands, and working together to move forward on giant “cross country skis”.

Afternoon 2: “Mud-sharing” activity. All campers and Church staff went into a shallow mud hole, and shared the mud with each other (!) This activity was enjoyed by all (once everyone was persuaded to get in…)

Afternoon 3: Solitaire. Campers and staff reflected on their time at camp and what they learned about the natural world and about themselves.

Those who wanted to slept outside around a campfire that night. Campers and staff took turns standing watch so see that the fire didn’t go out. Genets (small wild cats) were seen near the campfire during the night.


Morning 1: preparation for departure from the camp.

Morning 2: visit to Bwana, an orphaned male rhino who cannot be released back into the wild because of health problems. Campers and staff were able to hand feed and touch Bwana. This was quite an amazing experience for all participants.

Friday afternoon the group drove back to Johannesburg. We were all at church services in Johannesburg the next day.

Laetitia left for home in France on Sunday evening. René will spend a few weeks visiting family members who live in South Africa before returning home.

Many thanks to René and Laetitia who helped make the South African camp a great success this year. The campers and other staff very much appreciated their positive attitudes and enthusiastic participation in camp activities. Nice work ladies!

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