YMCA campers take a ‘trip’ to South Africa


Ponte Vedra’s YMCA was enlivened with dance, music and stunts Aug. 4, when counselors, teens and preteen campers took a virtual trip to South Africa via Skype.

Under the direction of Campsite Director Ryan James, YMCA teen and preteen campers spent the summer preparing a talent show via Skype with the YMCA of Cape Town, South Africa. In a video exchange featuring a rousing rendition of the crazy frog dance, the Cha Cha Slide, basketball stunts and a Rubik’s cube challenge, the campers finished their performances to the applause of their new friends at Cape Flats, who shared their own dance routines with the Ponte Vedra group.

The exchange grew out of the Y’s Super Summer Camp curriculum, which has “taken” the campers to a different country every day. South Africa was one of the first countries the campers explored, and the one that stuck with them throughout the 10 weeks of preparation, James said.

“It was a country we’d learned about during the first week of camp and it turned into a mission,” he said. “As we were learning about it, I realized how important it was to … find a way to give the kids perspective and work past any misunderstandings they had about the region.”

So, alongside James, the campers embarked on an assignment: to find a point of contact in a South Africa YMCA and connect with them. The goal was to present a cultural talent show where the campers share performances with one another. As the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, Inc. is part of an “Official National Coalition” with the YMCAs in South Africa, the connection made the most sense and it facilitated an opportunity for campers in different parts of the globe to communicate.

Arduous as it was to work through connectivity issues and time differences, the connection finally came when the Cape Flats campers filed onto the screen, bridging the gap between Ponte Vedra and Cape Town.

The importance of the exchange, James said, couldn’t be measured.

“I can’t put into words how important it is for kids to be able to … establish this connection with people from different cultures, different countries,” he said. “The deeper an understanding you have about people who are different from you, the more you learn about yourself.”

Ponte Vedra YMCA Member Experience Director Rick Hyman agreed.

“When you have a program like this you can look forward to being able to see how exposure to another culture and another world can help kids and see how many friends they make,” he said. “It’s been rewarding to see them learn and make this achievement throughout the summer.”