Overcoming prejudice and racism in South Africa

Juliane is a One Young World Ambassador from Germany who has studied and worked in South Africa. She founded Bridges Camp to overcome prejudices and racism in 10-14 year olds by providing them with a safe space to get to know young people from other ethnic backgrounds.

Bridges Camp has a development model in which the young participants receive leadership training. They are then invited to return to the camp and run activities for the next cohort.

You can follow Bridges Camp's activities on Facebook and hear Juliane speak about the initiative on YouTube.

“When I first came to the camp, I thought I am not going to make friends”.

Alex is describing his low expectations of being able to make friends with teenagers from different ethnic groups before he arrived at our camp. It is not a unique perception amongst young people in this country. South African society is shaped by huge economic inequality and segregation for a number of historical reasons. Everyday life is still marked by prejudices about "the other".

Nelson Mandela, the father modern of South Africa, dreamed of "a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world". As a group of young people from different countries, mostly South Africans, we share a common vision for this country. We believe that people should unite, irrespective of their background. We are convinced that it is possible to overcome boundaries and live together in a more inclusive way. This is crucial to enable a peaceful society in which the living conditions of all people can be improved significantly.

I have been shocked and saddened by the recent xenophobic riots in South Africa. I believe that they demonstrate a bigger challenge as we are still facing a lot of conflict between different societal groups - as well as huge level of violence caused by social and economic problems.

But how can people overcome prejudices and fight racism? Nelson Mandela was convinced that only personal contact between people can reduce stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination - and we at Bridges Camp share this belief. This is the reason why we are concerned that many people, and especially teenagers, still live in a segregated South Africa.

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What is Bridges Camp?

We believe that young people are capable of shaping the future of a society with fewer prejudices if they have positive interactions and are able to overcome racial prejudices. Hence, we feel it is a powerful approach to organise camps for teenagers. We have designed a programme that follows psychological theories and combines pedagogical exercises with leisure activities.

While playing games together, the teenagers learn that they all have something in common and are able to connect. It is important for them to understand that they have to work as a team to achieve a goal, for example, on a treasure hunt or by carrying each other through an obstacle course. The use of art activities gives the teenagers the chance to express their feelings.

“The first time I came, I was very confused. We played some games. The next day I met many friends and my mind was running up and down. The next day I shared a bed with some other girls in the room.” 

This sentiment expresses how the games and activities helped a girl to overcome her misgivings and connect to the other teenagers at the camp.

What have we achieved so far? 

We have already organised three successful camps and are currently planning further activities. We are convinced that they are an important and valuable experience for all the teenagers.

Even though the teenagers are between 10 and 14 years old, our approach is to see them as young adults and try to guide them on their process of personal self-growth. We believe that they can and should take responsibility for what they learn at the camp and make a positive contribution in their community. Many of them have a huge potential to become future leaders that are needed in the society. We give some of the teenagers the opportunity to improve their skills by selecting them as facilitators. After a training period, they facilitate the programmes at the next camp. It is great to see that they make a huge effort to be good facilitators and care for the new participants. 

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The teenagers also have the chance to openly talk about prejudices and judgment in groups and collectively formulate ways of building mutual respect for each other.  A boy described how he experienced the programme that we follow at the camp: “It was fun when we played games. It was good to learn about judging and to work in groups. I feel sad about leaving the camp.”

The camp creates an atmosphere outside the teenager’s daily environment. This is necessary so that they are able to challenge their deeply rooted prejudices and plan how to implement the lessons learned in their everyday life after the camp. By sharing their new insights in their communities, they spread the message of overcoming racial prejudices.

The best thing about our camps is that most teenagers really challenge themselves and change their perception. The following statement of Alex, the boy that we referred to in the beginning of the text, shows us that our work has an impact and is very valuable: 

“When I came to this camp, I felt scared but now I am not anymore. So I am not scared of the kids and people. It’s nice here at the Bridges Camp.”

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