In South Africa, the Children in the Wilderness (CITW) programme is built on a foundation of Eco Clubs. These clubs are hosted by volunteer CITW Eco Mentors and club sessions are usually held in a community school classroom or the grounds of the school on designated afternoons. In some cases, we endeavour to take children on selected outings to increase their exposure to the natural heritage in their area.
In the sessions environmentally conscious children with a common interest in the environment meet to learn, discuss, make friends and have fun. We aim to involve children in projects that benefit the community while developing an appreciation for their natural heritage.
It is at these clubs where we look for children who are genuinely interested in nature, wildlife and the environment and children who show leadership potential: all in keeping with the vision and values of the CITW programme.
Through these eco clubs we are able to reach more children on a more regular basis in the communities than we are able to accommodate on the CITW annual camps.
Club membership is limited to 40 members per school. The main reason for this is so that we can ensure that the eco clubs are of a high standard and that we can focus our activities and projects in a meaningful way.
The interactive, fun sessions are designed to be informative. Most often it is the camp staff, all members of the local community, that volunteer to run the Eco Club sessions in their home communities. This not only exposes children to different mentors but increases the respect of the staff members within their community.
Environmental projects and tasks are earmarked and organized in cooperation with the community members and teachers. The children are encouraged to participate in the planning process and come up with their own ideas in order for them to take ownership of their clubs and the projects. The Eco Clubs are increasingly providing positive community development while reaching the wider community.
For our staff, it allows them to be leaders, connects them to their jobs, instils pride in their culture/history and their community, builds team spirit, offers an enriching experience, builds confidence and reveals new skills and talents.
When CITW started, the focus was purely on vulnerable children, but we have realised everyone is affected by the environment and saving the planet has become much more than a cause. It is becoming our way of life. We all have a responsibility for the condition of our planet and we need young environmental leaders to help positively influence change, choices and decisions to make a difference for now and for future generations.