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36 JANUARY 2002
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Suleiman's story

A young gang member (17) participated on an Educo Wilderness Diversion for the NICRO Journey Programme in 2001.

On our first night I remember it was so cold. Guys were shivering but despite that we still sat in a circle, talked to each other and even sang. After that we went to sleep in our tents, but I couldn’t sleep. I was cold but I was also excited – what was in store for me for the next five days?

The next day there was a surprise for us – abseiling! I stood on the cliff and looked down and I thought “If I fall will die”, but the way they motivated me just lifted my spirits and I felt strong. I said to myself “I can do it. It is all in my mind. If we can overcome this fear then we can overcome other fears that we encounter in our lives." But yoh, was I scared! As I went down they were saying: “We've got a natural here!" It took a long time and when I finished, my legs wouldn’t stay still. When we got to the bottom we all screamed because we can do what we want. We were all scared and yet we all did it. I can’t describe the feeling but I felt great. It was the best part of the course for me.

I remember that night speaking about the dark things inside – about the time I stabbed my father. We had to find something in nature to represent us. I brought a pinecone – lumps and bumps all over it as I have a lot of ups and downs. Then we threw it in a black bag and said goodbye to those things. All of the guys cried. I thought it was weak for a man to cry but there in the mountains we all cried. Men do cry. Some cry inside. I look up to Coleridge. He whispers but somehow the words stick. The words he said to us – I don’t know how to make that come out, how to live it.

The next day was our solo – one night alone! I didn’t think I could do it. We had to make our own camp and we couldn’t talk or be with others. They painted our faces like Indians and stood in a circle. They burned these wild herbs and waved the smoke in front of us with eagle feathers. I went to my tent that night and – listening to the river and nature – a lot of stuff came to my mind. I sang and when I sang I cried. I felt pain thinking of my life but I also felt joy because these people did all these things for me and I didn’t do a thing for them. If people like them can still have faith in us youth, then why do we have to do wrong like steal or rob people.

When we finally spoke about our solos, we each took a turn and the others listened. Afterwards the Educo staff told us that we all have willpower – we can change our lives because we have the strength inside. That night Trevor showed us his pictures of Everest and told us how he had made his dream happen. That’s what I am trying to do. I learned if you want to do something, do it. I can sing well and I think I would like to sing and perform. There is a club here in Mitchell's Plain where the kids learn theatre and dance. I am going for an audition there next week.

I think that the course was for us to realise not to do wrong things – kill each other, fight each other – it was to show us we can work together. On the hike, if one guy falls, before he does, I must try and catch him. We can also do this in our communities – not fight each other but stand together against gangsterism.

I am also a gangster. I am slowly drifting away from that. I used to go to the [Mitchell's Plain] town centre every day trying to steal – I’ve got three [court] cases from there. That was before I went on the camp. I don’t want to do it anymore – I told myself it is nonsense – I will only end up in jail or get shot. I am trying to bring some of what I learned back home. I tell my friends that I learned about responsibility, respecting others and their property. Don’t try to steal something, try instead to work for it. But some of the guys just say that is rubbish. My one friend listened. When I told him what happened to me in the mountains, he stopped doing drugs and now he’s “born again” and works at Shoprite. I am still trying to do that. In that journal that Coleridge gave us, there were wise words from different people. One verse said: “I cannot change the world as one person, but I can change the world for one person". That’s what happened for me and my friend. He’s helping me possibly get a job too. I just hope things work out for me.

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Program Methods
Educo makes use of a variety of methods on its programmes, drawing from experiential education, adventure-based therapy, wilderness therapy and Vision Quest, to name a few. Elements of these are creatively combined to have the greatest impact and meet the needs of our clients.

Some components are:

Full value contracting the process of agreement made by each member of the group, to give shape and form to the time together. As a contract it holds everyone, whether instructor or participant, accountable to their word.
Vision quest or solo time spent alone in the wilderness forms a fundamental part of wilderness therapy methodology often bringing a greater sense of inner peace and insight into dilemmas.
Mirroring a way of reflecting back to the participant, of illuminating, or making conscious, unrealised strengths and gifts, or issues that s/he may have been grappling with.
Rites of passage involves the use of ceremony and ritual from a variety of traditions and cultures to mark and make meaning out of significant life experiences or thresholds of change.
Initiative games, and activities ranging from fun “de-inhibitors” to more challenging provokers of trust, communication and co-operation.
Adventure challenge activities (abseiling, hiking, canoeing etc) invite participants to explore and discover new strengths and skills and then meaningfully apply these to personal life situations.
Experiential learning uses the model of experience, reflection and application of new understanding, for a direct transfer of learning into daily life situations to bring about significant change.
Community service projects an avenue for participants to “give back” some of what they have received, to the community or the environment.
Journaling allows participants to explore their feelings, thoughts, and experiences by keeping a diary, which may lead into a discussion of a theme or personal sharing within the group.

Acknowledgements: Educo Africa, a leadership development program based in Cape Town.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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