Camp Sizanani is a special place. Located near Johannesburg, South Africa, Sizanani provides children affected with HIV/AIDS a place to escape, to grow, and most importantly, to be kids. Sizanani offers campers the opportunity to swim, dance, test their creativity in Arts & Crafts, and play a variety of sports. The camp also hosts a unique program that teaches campers a variety of life skills, such as nutrition, hygiene, healthy sexuality, and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
Sizanani is a Zulu word meaning “help each other.” The camp is part of a non-profit corporation called World Camps, which aims to “provide a camp experience for children affected by HIV/AIDS in developing countries and to change prevailing attitudes and behaviors towards AIDS.” Sizanani is one of several initiatives planned by World Camps.
Boys and girls attend Camp Sizanani for separate ten day sessions. There are six sessions held each year. Typically, the camp can accomodate 110 children (ranging in age from 10-15 years old). It draws many of its campers from Soweto, and is staffed both by local folks and international volunteers.
I used a Christmas gift card to pick up, among other things, Stephen Lewis’ new book, Race Against Time. The book is based on Lewis’ Massey Lecture series from 2005 at the University of Toronto. It’s a fascinating read, full of some troubling annecdotes, but also some heartwarming stories. One of the more optimistic stories comes from Zambia.
A residential school in the Zambian town of Lusaka is a pioneer in education in Africa. The school is called Umoyo, and is relatively small (about 60 students attend). Umoyo is unique in that it is strictly an all-girls school, and all of its students are chosen by their communities to attend. All of the girls are between 15 and 19 years-old, and all of them have been orphaned by AIDS.
Umoyo is reknowned for its positive environment. In Race Against Time, Lewis praises the excellent student-to-teacher ratio, and describes all of the staff members as “uniformly first-rate.” Lewis writes: “The entire atmosphere is resolute and loving.” During a girl’s stay at Umoyo, her first two months are spent recovering from the traumatic period she just endured – the death of a parent from AIDS. Next, she is given time to get used to her new school, surroundings, and peers. Academics make up the final eight months of her stay at the school. Umoyo is known for its first-rate education, and its students consistently score high on nation-wide tests.
The supportive environment at Umoyo is invaluable to its girls. Females between the ages of 15 and 19 are most at-risk of acquiring the HIV virus. At Umoyo, girls become more self-confident, and also more aware. They learn that it is okay to say “No” to sex. They learn that they are allowed to insist on the use of a condom. And they learn that there is nothing wrong with reporting sexual violence. As Lewis writes, Umoyo proves that prevention “consists of the kind of affirmative action for girls that undoes all the cumulative damage done over time, to their perceptions of themselves, their egos, their self-confidence, their sexuality.”
In the spirit of the holiday season, it seemed appropriate to highlight a charitible organization that is making a difference to many in the Toronto area on a year-round basis. Second Harvest was founded in 1986, and is dedicated to ensuring that fresh food from GTA grocery stores and restaurants does not go to waste. Using six refrigerated trucks, the organization picks up high-quality fresh food and produce on a daily basis and delivers it within hours to over 230 community centres, shelters, breakfast programs, and drop-in centres across the city.
Second Harvest distinguishes itself from food banks in that it collects perishable foods, such as meat, milk, and vegetables. Its efforts help provide 13,000 meals each day to children, the elderly, women who are fleeing abuse, and the homeless.
In addition to its main program, Second Harvest undertook two other initiatives that are making a difference in Toronto. The Feeding Our Future program began in 1999, supplying lunches to inner-city children who were otherwise unable to attend free summer camps because their families could not afford to send a lunch along with them. Harvest Kitchens was launced in 2001 in four Toronto facilities, where unemployed individuals were trained in food preparation with the aim of giving them valuable skills to help them find jobs. The refrigerated trucks deliver raw food from donors to the kitchens, where folks are trained under the supervision of food service professionals.
Election time is upon us here in Canada, and all political parties have been quick off the mark with takes on the usual promises to the electorate. Among the more intersting debates that emerged during the first few weeks of the campaign centred on the notion of lowering the legal voting age to 16.
In a country where 16 year olds have many rights and responsibilities already, it is unfortunate that Canada has not yet extended the right to vote to this group of citizens. With voter turnout rates expected to be at record lows for January’s election, Canada needs seriously examine how to get more people participating in one of the essential hallmarks of a democracy. By encouraging 16 year olds to vote, especially while they are in high school and can be educated on the democratic process, it is hoped that youth may be encouraged to participate in democracy at an earlier age, and for a lifetime.
A Member of Parliament during the last session put forth a private members’ bill that would have lowered the voting age to 16. The bill was defeated in June, but he has used the current campaign to promote this important idea once again. Vote16.ca is a website dedicated to “engaging Canada’s youth in politics,” specifically through lowering the legal voting age to 16.
Congratulations to Maude Barlow, National Chair of the Council of Canadians, and Tony Clarke, Director of the Polaris Insititute, for winning the Right Livelihood Award (RLA). The RLA was created in 1980, and is awarded by the Swedish Parliament. It is known around the world as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”
The RLA is presented to those who embody “the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth’s resources.” The award acknowledges the personal sacrifices of its recipients, and also recognizes that the work of those recipients is often accomplished despite powerful opposing forces.
Barlow and Clarke, two of four recipients of the award this year, were chosen because of their work promoting the “fundamental right to water.” They published a book called Blue Gold in 2002, which explores the privatization of water around the world. The book has been published in 12 languages and is sold in 40 countries.
Barlow and Clarke will be presented with the RLA on December 9, and will receive a share of the $300 000 (Cdn) prize with the other winners.
You can read the Council of Canadians press release here.