Several years ago, I volunteered as a camp counselor for FertileGround, and truly, my time spent there changed the course of my professional and personal life. Bearing witness to the incredible love, passion, and dedication both Robert and Jawaya put into their organization, and more importantly, those they served, cemented my decision to attend medical school with a specialization in global health.
Beyond the clinical aspects of HIV/AIDS, my time spent with FertileGround taught me that the best, most successful therapies (for any condition!) were simply those of love, confidence, and acceptance.
Through fun team-building activities, lessons, and mealtime conversation, the campers were able to forget the troubles plaguing their world: stigma, poverty, and illness. These troubles were replaced with laughs, smiles, and encouragement. Within the few days the children spent at camp, a safe-haven was formed. This was a community without judgment and without worry.
This safe space, the friendships formed, and the education provided at these camps was truly invaluable to the camp participants, and incredible for me to witness.
As a camp counselor, it was my job to combat stigma and social inequality through the provision of love and confidence, and I can only hope that I impacted the lives of the campers in even half the way they have impacted mine.
3 years later, I continue to draw and reflect on my experiences volunteering for Fertile Ground in my own public health work. I volunteered with Jawaya and Robert at the Red Cross Hospital and as part of their camps for children. As a volunteer, I could see that all of their activities directly impact the children and caregivers involved, and witnessed firsthand the benefits of Fertile Ground's efforts. Their mission is strong and the children are at the core of everything Fertile Ground does. It is such a great organisation, that sustains hope and growth in a desperate situation. I would love to see their reach expand to its full potential in future.
I had a life changing experience whilst volunteering as a facilitate for Fertile Ground. I was part of a team that's focus was merely giving back and through this it opened in such a positive way. I am really grateful to be a part of such a amazing organization.
I had an amazing experience volunteering for Fertilieground.. I went on a camp where we helped kids between the ages 5-16 years old, living with HIV. helping them understand the virus in a way that kids know best with playing games and doing obsticle courses and fun things.. it was great learning from the other directors and kids even. there have been many other outings like teaching them how to ride bicycles and to paint etc.. this is one organisation i will continue to support for the rest of my life and my kids one day would follow in my footsteps.. its such a great feeling giving back to my community and watching how the kids have grown up and teaching the ones younger than them what they have learned over the years. I always talk about fertileground and what a great job they are doing improving our country from small beginnings.
We met Robert and his volunteers at the Rheumatology Clinic at the Red Cross Hospital during one of our visits. My 12 year daughter was invited to join the Cape Argus Race in March this year. Sonja participated and my husband ride along to motivate and assist her. This was the first event after Johan's mitral valve replacement. Most of the children participating came from dis advanced communities and had the opportunity to forget their challenges for one day and just have fun. The founders made sure there were bicycles, helmets, shirts, water bottles and shade for the participants. They ride with the children to motivate and assist where there was no family to join. Sonja is so proud of her first ever bicycle race and the medal that she received.
Robert and his team is a great asset at Red Cross Hospital, as we often have to wait for long periods before we can see the doctors. Our Fertile Ground make it fun waiting by playing games and having conversations that interest the older children.
I've seen the organization actively involved in mobilizing the youth of our country and specifically the children with chronic, rare and dreaded diseases
I met the founders of Fertile Ground, Robert and Jawaya Shea in 2008, while leading a group of my University of Illinois students on a tour of the Cape Town area. I was very impressed with their vision for the organization, and commitment to strengthening and empowering children through both physical health and emotional well-being. I returned to lend child development expertise to the Fertile Ground philosophy of also strengthening parents and supporting strong parent-child relationships as an important enabling factor for good mental health and positive social choices. This organization has so positively impacted the lives of many, and Robert and Jawaya, as well as their staff, just continue to pour energy, time, professional knowledge, and creativity into Fertile Ground's development and outreach. Fertile Ground provides a wonderful, supportive, empowering, and life-changing foundation to the children and families it touches!
I started volunteering with Fertile Ground in 2012 at the residential camp after meeting the Directors through a government-coordinated youth development programme. It was an amazing experience being around such beautiful souls who were willing to share and learn. The parents could not stop smiling when they saw their children playing en enjoying life like there was no tomorrow. So after the camp I decided to spend more time at the clinics volunteering. I remember the comments of the parents after the camp, some were in tears because they never thought that disabled kids could play games with able-bodied children, and to be included without any discrimination. At home children are kept in their wheel-chairs. It changed the way everyone at the camp perceived children living with disabilities. I felt like crying this year when we were not able to host another camp in the Easter holidays because there was not enough funding to support another camp at that time. But when we told them that they could participate in the cape Argus Cycle Tour instead as Robert had managed to secure a donation of bicycles, and everyone wanted to know about the dates of the cycle tour.
I enjoy every moment of my time with fertile Ground and the work we do.
I met the founders of Fertile Ground on an HIV/AIDS awareness -raising march in Houtbay in 2005. At that time the organisation was being registered and the first camp was planned for December. I really liked the concept of helping children learn to take charge of their own health and immediately signed up as a volunteer.The first camp had 25 child participants, 20 youth counselors, 5 parents and some youth from California. It was fantastic! The camp was so much fun and the health messages were integrated into the fun activities. Doctors and nurse s also came out to the camp. When I saw how it changed children's feelings about themselves and their health status, I was committed. I was elected as a Camp Director as I had several years experience working in a youth development program. I have been involved in every one of the organization's activities and know very well how it changes lives.The effects are long-lasting and life-altering.
Children with chronic, life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses often need to be hospitalised for long periods. Being in a strange environment with unfamiliar people, away from their loved ones and their own environment is known to have a detrimental effect on children's emotional, social and even physical development. Play therapy is recognised as a therapeutic approach that helps children communicate in their own way and at their own level.The play therapy Robert and the volunteers and interns engage in with children is a fun way to help children develop. Indeed, they are more likely to be compliant because it is non-threatening yet therapeutic. Additionally, families can engage in these activities at home so it gives the family and child control over the child's development.
My experience with Our Fertile Ground is limited to the bike world, but I can say unequivocally that I support their efforts and I trust in their mission. We donated bikes so that the Fertile Ground kids could participate in a Cape Town bike ride fundraiser. What a great idea by Robert - have the kids raise funding toward their own program by engaging in such a healthy and uplifting activity as an organized group bike ride. The kids were exposed to the best of the cycling world - its spirit, its community, its generosity, its camaraderie - and they felt the personal pride not just of completing the ride, but of making a real and positive contribution back to Fertile Ground. I'm very much looking forward to working with this organization more in the future.
Fertile Ground gives courage and strength to the most fragile and precious and fragile of us all, the children who have been devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and poverty.
In the poorest of places where hope never reaches the hearts of many, Fertile Ground is the voice of courage and strength that teaches the children how to live positively and help influence their childhood with loving memories, that offer the time,space and the safety to play and explore.
Not only does the organisation offer much-needed information, they actively help children create beautiful memories like taking them on hiking trails, camps and offer them opportunities to discover and enjoy their city beyond the poverty and hopelessness that is the gloom in their townships, healing them with love by creating beautifully unforgettable memories that help them remember that they too matter.
Children's hearts are nurtured with love, skills, information as they are given a second chance at enjoying the joys of childhood. Fertile Ground is a much-needed gift in society.
Fertile Ground is a Non-Profit Organization founded in 2005 to educate, support and empower individuals affected by HIV and AIDS. It has since then, provided a safe place in which children and their families are able to address pertinent issues, associated with the disease and its' attached stigma, without judgment or fear while simultaneously strengthening community bonds and enhancing social support.
Robert and Jawaya Shea, together with a host of volunteers have inspired individuals from all walks of life to take responsibility for themselves, their families as well as their communities and to assist in uplifting the lives of those less fortunate. They have played a intregral role in organising numerous residential and day camps as well as providing outreach programs for affected children, to major hospitals and clinics around the Cape Town district.
Their camps are well-structured, organised and exhibit an incredible amount of hard work and dedication towards this cause. The programs created, incorporate life skills such as leadership, self-empowerment and responsibility as well as more practical skills needed to cope with everyday life.
This organisation is committed to the development and upliftment of youth in this country and their efforts to positively effect change among these communities should be commended.
Dr V Pillay
I started working for Fertile Ground when the NGO started. Initially it was one of those things where your Mom tells you to help out by force but here i am 8 years later still participating in the day outings and annual camps.
My name is Shiraaz Ismail and Jawaya Shea is my Mom. She allowed me to form part of the organisation right from the get- go as she saw the events that Fertile Ground organises to be something that would assist my development. She was right. The life lessons one learns through the work of organisations like these are uncountable.
Personally i've overcome various stigma driven fears about HIV and AIDS through these camps as well as make lots of new friends (Participants and camp counsellors).
As a Youth Camp Director, i see firsthand what a benefit these camps and day outings are to the participants. Children with HIV/AIDS feel alienated by society and by simply playing games with infected or affected people, these shackles are unlocked. It might sound cheesy but after you see the joy on a kid's face at one of the camps, you are hooked to come back each year.
The best part about the organisation is that the annual camps are not where the social responsibility stops when it comes to Fertile Ground. The day outings and visits to the clinics keep the relationships between the participants and facilitators intact and develop strong bonds which could last a lifetime. Infected kids have been seen getting much better at managing their health and they start to see it as less of a monster than they imagined it to be. The emphasis is on making health a routine activity, not a chore.
Through my participation in the activities of the organisation I have grown in many ways, developed skills I did not know I had, learnt about people and their life situations in a moving way, and through it all I have grown in maturity and responsibility. I like to think that the fun and enthusiasm I infuse in the camps and day outings is infectious, and last well beyond the time the sun sets on the outing or residential camp. Believe me, the camp takes a lot of organising - ask me, I've been involved in planning them all. But it is always uplifting and so worth the effort. There is no doubt in my mind that Fertile Ground activities make a difference. Every time I bump into one of our participants, they are thrilled to see me and the first thing they say is:" When is the next camp? I can't wait!"
Without these events that Fertile Ground host, i can guarantee that things would be worse. Not only for participants but for facilitators as well.
This is why i will always be a part of Fertile Ground. As long as i have the ability to assist, i will do just that.
My family and I have helped with fundraising for this wonderful program for years and we are very impressed with the work they are doing to help children and families. We even traveled to Cape Town to visit the program and take some of the children, counselors and families on an outing. We would love to see this program get an endowment for a permanent campsite that operates year round. It could provide much needed counseling and services, including job skills to an underserved population, living in some of the poorest conditions imagineable. The founders, Robert and Jawaya Shea, are so deeply commited to these children and families, they have spent nearly all of their own money to keep it going. We stay in touch with visits, email, phone calls and Skype. Robert shared some of the new achievements with me just today: The programs we are putting a lot of energy into right now are:
1. The New Leaf project that is designed to help parents read to their
children from an early age. This will stimulate cognitive development,
bonding and social development as parents engage with their children
while reading, and promote literacy within communities. We hope to
connect parents to local public libraries through this project where
they will have access to a range of books as well as computers and
internet access. One of our counselors, Siya Baleni, has a 4 year-old
son to whom he reads every night, something he did not experience as a
2. The Parenting curriculum which is a program that exposes parents to
various child-related topics, like normal developmental stages, how
parents can make toys to stimulate child development, health
nutrition, health promotion about common childhood illnesses and
injury prevention and issues like burns prevention. The most important
aspect of this project is that it fosters the development of
non-violent child guidance practices because spanking is still viewed
as an acceptable and routine discipline strategy.
3. Intervention in the out-patient clinics. This has emerged as quite
a successful part of our programs as more and more interns are getting
involved. The interns are trained on basic child development and
strategies for encouraging play between parents and children. Play
remains a significant part of healthy child development and parents
learn to enjoy having fun with their children while they are also
encouraging the child in areas like gross and fine motor development,
speech and social skills. For the interns the benefit is that they
develop insight into child health and can use the experience as a
career development strategy.
4. We will also build on the Biking project. We now have 30 bikes. We
will participate in the 2014 Cape Argus Cycle Tour March 8th & 9th,
the Junior we will have 40 kids & 10 parents riding, and in the Senior
Tour 20 cyclist riding. Across the street from Red Cross is a public
exercising course with a 3km track around it we plan to start training
next week. Three of our interns have never learnt to ride a bike, we
will start training them in next week.
Our Fertile Ground allows children to be children. Most of the children that come to the residential camps have been exposed to hardships--poverty, illness, stigma, etc...While at Our Fertile Ground, a child is allowed to forget and focus on being happy. Children are encourage to look at a bright future with hope and empowerment.