For Andy Savage there’s nothing more rewarding than watching a child’s reaction when they first arrive at YMCA camp Raukawa.
“It’s staggering to see their eyes light up, a lot of the kids have never been anywhere like this before, they are just so excited”.
Situated 45 minutes from Whanganui, camp Raukawa runs dozens of programmes each year for schools and community groups but also works with the Ministry of Vulnerable Children to organise respite camps for foster kids and their families. Andy says it’s those kids that really benefit from the experience.
“A lot of the kids who come to us through the foster system are quite tough, they come from an environment where they feel they have to constantly keep their guard up, after a few days you see these tough 13 and 14 year old boys sitting on the floor making friendship bracelets and you think this is why we do this, it’s a place where these kids can just be kids.”
The camp is spread across more than sixteen hectares, and offers a range of outdoor and team building activities, many of the camp’s philosophies have been adapted from the Camp USA structure, including the mealtime routines.
“During dinner time the kids stay at the tables and the adults serve them before sitting down to eat and talk with them, for some of the kids it’s the first time they have eaten a meal at a table.”
With so many kids and so much land to cover the camp has just purchased six walkie talkies thanks to the Fonterra grass roots fund. The devices replace their old ones which Andy says were starting to break down. Since most of the area has no cell phone reception Andy says the walkie talkies are vital for safety and the smooth running of the camp.
Fonterra Grass Roots manager Kane Silcock says the camp is a good example of what the Fonterra Grass Roots funding stands for.
“The fund helps groups and organisations which enrich lives and bring communities together, it’s our way of giving back to the people of New Zealand.”
Due to its remote location the camp is also listed as a civil defence base for the area.