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Young South Africans come together for climate bootcamp

The week-long Youth Climate Champions (YCC) Bootcamp in October (a month before COP27 was due to kick off) was an opportunity for a new cohort of young climate activists to learn and interact with each other. One of the event organisers, Ivanna Katz, goes behind the scenes.

© WWF South Africa
Participants take a moment to celebrate towards the end of the week-long YCC bootcamp.
The planning

Initially, when tasked with helping to plan the YCC bootcamp, it felt like an insurmountable job, but, step by step, we managed to put together an unforgettable event.
Innocentia Modau, YCC project manager, and I had to secure dates and find an inspiring venue as early as possible, during university holidays to accommodate our participants. After a day of viewing multiple venues, our final stop, Cradle Moon, a lakeside lodge between Johannesburg and Tshwane, came out well on top, with great conferencing facilities, modern three-sleeper rooms, and beautiful surrounding area, with resident zebras and vervet monkeys.
By the time the deadline for applications closed at the end of August, we already had 642 applications but only 35 spaces. What followed was the difficult task of whittling this number down, which took three rounds of shortlisting!  

© WWF South Africa
YCC Bootcamp participants, Shaia Sibiya, Sakhile Mpofu, and Olebogeng Matlala, create their personalized names tags after arriving at Cradle Moon.
Let the bootcamp begin...

As a curtain-raiser to the in-person event, we held a virtual orientation session to allow for introductions and a chance to ask questions. For the bootcamp itself, participants travelled from as far afield as Tzaneen and Lephalale in Limpopo, and other provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.
When I was a student, I felt as if the only path to a career in the environment was either research or environmental consulting. After a long and winding path in various roles, I now know there is a world of opportunities out there. That's why we decided to spend the first afternoon focusing on environmental careers and scarce skills in the sector including a career speed-dating session to showcase potential careers, ranging from environmental law to plastics policy work, activism, environmental design, circular economy, and GIS. This session was very well received with many participants asking for more time and appreciating the frank conversations we had.
The day closed off with a reflective session
run by our inspiring facilitators for the week, Zaynab Sadan, of WWF South Africa, and climate activist Mitchelle Mhaka.

© WWF South Africa
The climate sessions were interactive and high energy – without a PowerPoint presentation in sight.
Getting down to business

On day two, Mitchelle led our climate session in what proved to be a lesson in the productive possibilities of co-learning.
Despite it being a full day of learning about climate change, there was not a single presentation, nor were there any desks or notebooks. All the knowledge that was shared and produced came from pulling together what we all already knew to be true.
On the third day, we were joined by more external speakers. The second session was on climate activism and how to harness anger into action by Irfaan Mangera of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which included a group exercise drafting a three-step election campaign and manifesto.
I found it particularly interesting how many intense emotions this session brought up for everyone in the room, so much so that we had to organise an in-depth reflection to close out the day.
My personal highlight of this day was the social media training by WWF South Africa’s social media officer Alex Kogl. For a practical exercise, we split into groups and had 15 minutes to create an Instagram video of a mock march/protest. These videos were energetic, playful and impressive, giving the participants a taste of the power waiting to be unleashed through their own social media channels.
On the last morning of the bootcamp, we brainstormed ways for the cohort to mobilise change, both individually and as a group. There were so many ideas: a WhatsApp group, a Facebook group, a website, an ambassadorship programme, developing a database of skills, creating an impact network, provincial school education programmes, community engagement initiatives, YCC resolutions document, and a career fair!  

© WWF South Africa
Bootcamp participants mid-session, with comments from Fani Sydeny Miya.
Challenges and learnings

Over the course of this bootcamp I learnt about the importance of flexibility. One of the ways this was done was to establish a “safe word” where, if the participants were feeling tired, overwhelmed or starting to lose focus, they could shout out the word “pineapple” and this would signal an immediate five-minute break.  
We had anticipated that some of the climate discussions would be emotional, but we underestimated to what extent this would be the case and how many tears would be shed during the sessions. With hindsight, it would have been useful to have a trained counsellor present with the expertise to deal with some of the bigger emotions that the sessions evoked. 
I feel immensely proud to have played a significant role in this event. Overall, I think the bootcamp was incredibly successful and I believe the first iteration of it could not have gone better, especially with such an amazing support team and speakers of the highest calibre.  
But the stars of the show were the bootcamp participants themselves. They were so committed to learning and so eager to participate while being supportive of their fellow participants and the organising team. I want to thank every one of them for this, from the bottom of my heart and look forward to working with them in the future as they enter the field of climate work.  
Already, since they bootcamp, I have met up with participants at various climate related events, and I think this speaks to two things – the bond we all developed over the course of the week we spent together and the success of the bootcamp in capacitating young people to engage in climate policy processes. 

© WWF South Africa
After an intense week of interaction, activity and conversation, the participants earned a bit of R&R and a boat trip.

The YCC Bootcamp falls under the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project (CAAP). WWF South Africa, the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN) and the Instittue for Economic Justice (IEJ) are working together on the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project. This work is possible with funding support from the European Union as part of its Climate Change Champions programme. This blog is the sole responsibility of the project team and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. 

Ivanna Katz Photo
Ivanna Katz, Climate Ambition to Accountability Project

Ivanna is a committed to working towards a world of sustainable cities, food security, and climate safety, and brings her passion for this into all spheres of her life.

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