Camps teach children low-impact living

Jade Khoury and Rein Buyze are teaching kids about sustainable living and service.

As the world at large faces dwindling natural resources, in Scarborough the next generation is already hard at work learning about how to live sustainably, to be of service and to resolve conflicts peacefully.

This microcosm of possibility is what the Earth Champs wilderness camps are all about: creating a consciousness of cause and effect in behaviour in children with specific focus on how to live more in harmony with nature.

The camps, all different in focus, are led by Jade Khoury and Camilla Colley. The latest, held from Monday April 10 to Friday April 14, in a forest on the Cape Farmhouse land, also had the experience of Rein Buyze. Both are Waldorf teachers who have worked extensively with children in the Anthroposophical tradition of Rudolf Steiner. Both have moved from teaching full time to pursuits even more aligned with bringing nature and people together.

The children at the wilderness camps are learning a mindset of service towards their communities and are recycling and learning to be proactive in the face of real challenges in the world around them. They are also realising that change has to come from them because this is their physical world in the balance.

“By taking part in the camps the children are building a consciousness and skill set which equips them to make the changes they can, which is incredibly powerful for them. Even the smallest things, like brushing their teeth with less than a quarter cup of water, is helping and they are very proud about it,” says Jade. The children were also taught how to collect water in the wild.

The children, this group is between seven and 14 years old, are involved in every aspect of the camps, so they learn the power of each person doing their part to maintain the whole.

“They each have tasks and they actually run and maintain the camp – under supervision of course. But they are recycling or cleaning or fetching wood or on fire duty. No matter what it is, they are involved in some way,” says Jade.

Every day there is a guest speaker who will talk to the children. On Monday their guest speaker brought snakes, the next day the Two Oceans Aquarium gave a talk, also planned was a chat with the City’s baboon management team. As we spoke, a troop of baboons moved past the forest and Rein slipped out to talk to the children about safety. The animals passed by peacefully and the children – who were having some quiet time, continued with play, reading, craft work or whittling sticks around the camp fire.

This group was slightly over-subscribed, the ideal was 20 children, and 24 arrived.

“The kids are desperate for it. I find every time I run a camp they have such a hunger to learn about the natural world they live in, to connect to it instead of their iPods. They are so urbanised, and for many it is a huge thing to not sleep in their bedroom, or have their regular meals. To learn flexibility about these things is so important because that flexibility will extend to other situations in their lives,” says Jade.

The food is sometimes an issue. The camps are vegetarian, bordering on vegan.

Rein says he was so impressed at the consistency in the camp ethos. “Often, even in very beautiful settings, there is a contradiction. Here, all the food is organic, none of it came from chain stores or supermarkets, and all leftovers were composted. Part of the experience we want to share with the kids is this philosophy. If we are talking about kindness, then have the experience of food that is, too,” he said.

He said for many children, recognising the links between a sustainable approach and harmonious living was life changing.

“Personally, nature is my way of connecting to the spiritual. Some get there through religion or art, nature is my way. Kids today are seldom able to rest, to breathe into and connect to nature in any way, and there may be kids who find their peace in nature in the same way I do. And so the courses for me are about granting them that, and also showing them how to survive sustainably in nature. There is a balance and a confidence which comes from that ability which is healthy,” he says.

He added that he and his camp work partner Daniel Baum often encounter young boys with a skewed idea of masculinity, boys who think violence or tough behaviour is what masculinity is. “We have a little chat with them about that and about the effect of that in the balance of masculine and feminine in the world. It invariably gives them some new information to consider, and we feel that this is important,” he says.

Jade pointed out the sustainability of the meat industry was, arguably, not viable, and says the idea was simply to encourage a flexibility in habits which most children are not experiencing.

“Many children today are very pandered to. When they get home from camp they will appreciate their home comforts in such new ways. They will see and understand better the flow of products and waste, and we hope they will have learnt enough and be confident enough to take the lead at home and maybe start composting or recycling, making eco bricks, or finding creative ways to save water,” Jade says.

Outside of camps, Jade teaches domestic worker courses in eco-friendly products and habits, and does workshops on ways to integrate nature into urban areas.

“My son Luca named Earth Champs. I had been thinking Eco Warriors or Earth Warriors and he just gave the name so naturally. What I liked was the positive connotation: champs is so much more peaceful,” Jade says. The first camp she and Camilla ran was in spring in Stellenbosch in 2014. And she’s never looked back.

Over the years, Rein’s teaching at Waldorf schools morphed into his interest in survival techniques and he and Daniel have been immersing themselves in the study of John Young’s survivalist philosophy.

To find out more about future camps, email: or call her on 071 432 7960.