Red Cross' Rise Up camp isn’t just about having fun. It’s also a chance for children to build confidence, develop leadership skills and try new things.

The children walk silently through the trees, their eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.

It's a warm summer’s day in the Totara Reserve bush, a valley about 40 minutes out of Palmerston North. The children, all wearing neon pink baseball caps, scan the surrounding wilderness. Their heads move from right to left, just as they’ve been taught.

Suddenly, one of the girls stops and, beneath the pink cap, her eyes light up.

She’s just spotted a pair of old boots.

A young camper explores during the bush hunt.

The bush hunt is part of Red Cross' Rise Up, a holiday camp for 10- to 13-year-olds. They’re using survival skills to search for objects, like the old boots, hidden along a Burma trail.

The team that spots the most objects wins the game, but even those who don’t take out the top spot will go away with a newfound knowledge of bush craft.

A young camper gets a hint from a team leader during the Burma trail challenge. 

It's just one of many fun activities on offer at Rise Up. During the camp, children try everything from new dance moves to high-tech firefighting gadgets. The New Zealand Army, Police and Fire and Emergency New Zealand all help out, organising activities and providing support throughout the week-long camp.

Watching the children laugh and joke as they finish the trail, it's clear Rise Up is a lot of fun. However, it’s also a chance for the young campers to build confidence and develop new skills, camp organiser Stacey Foskett says. 

"It's about giving the young people the opportunity to challenge themselves and realise what they're capable of."

"Along with the outdoor activities, we spend time talking about values and helping all the kids set goals they want to work towards," she says.

“They meet up a few months later to reconnect with their camp friends and check how they’re going with their goals. So, although the camp runs for a week, we hope it will have an impact for a lot longer."

The campers heading out for an activity. 

The children are joined at the camp by community volunteers and local high school students, who give up their own holidays to help out as youth leaders.

The leaders are on hand to provide support and act as positive role models, especially for those kids who might not have them in other areas of their life.

Lindsay Taylor, Red Cross Area Council Chair and part of the Whanganui Fire Brigade, has been coming to Rise Up for three years. He admits the camp can be challenging at times, but says it's also an extremely rewarding experience.

"You get a lot of satisfaction just seeing the change in the kids from when they first arrive to when they leave." 

Ella, 17, and Kelsi, 16, are two of the youth leaders on this summer's camp. Both are now on their fourth Rise Up, travelling the hour and a half from Otaki to spend the week in the Pohangina Valley.

What keeps them coming back?

"For me, it’s helping the kids and seeing them grow and come out of their shells each day. They learn a lot of skills here they can take back into their life at home and school," Ella says.

“It’s just a great feeling being able to help these kids out, to spend so much time with them and get to know them.”

Youth leaders from the camp.

Ella, 17, and Kelsi, 16, are two of the youth leaders on this summer's camp. Both are now on their fourth Rise Up, travelling the hour and a half from Otaki to spend the week in the Pohangina Valley.

What keeps them coming back?

"For me, it’s helping the kids and seeing them grow and come out of their shells each day. They learn a lot of skills here they can take back into their life at home and school," Ella says.

“It’s just a great feeling being able to help these kids out, to spend so much time with them and get to know them.”

A younger camper engages with the team leader during an activity. 

George Coles can normally be found at NZ Post's head office in Wellington but this week, she’s a leader with the Green Lightning Mate team. She’s been taking part in the activities alongside the young campers and has been impressed by the camp’s emphasis on kids supporting each other.

"It is a great programme to be involved in. We recently won the Partnering Good Award with Red Cross at the Sustainable Business Network Awards so this is another community project we are supporting to deliver a positive social impact on local communities. Our local team from the Manawatu Mail Centre were thrilled to take part in the activities," she says.

"It’s fantastic to watch the kids and their enthusiasm in activities, and really lovely to see the bond and relationships they have with each other. You can already see a lot of kids are coming out of their shell and see the confidence they’ll go away with and the new skills they’ve got."

Campers taking part in a trust building exercise. 

For the kids, Rise Up is just a fun way to spend their holidays. The days are busy, packed with activities from breakfast until bedtime, and the young campers love it.

"It's really fun," says 12-year-old Ayisha. “It’s my first camp in New Zealand. I’ve loved the activities that we were doing and I love my team.

“The leaders were cool. They encouraged me to do the stuff that I didn’t want to do – they were, like, face your fear. It was my first time swimming in a river and they encouraged me to do it and I actually did it.”

Her teammate Harmony, 10, has also enjoyed the experience.

“I’ve been really confident at this camp. My teammates give me support all the time and I really like the team leaders that have been helping me, encouraging me.”

"We’re just showing them the positive things that can happen if they put their mind to it."

Out of the bush and after a hearty lunch, the teams work together to assemble a fire hose. It snakes across the gravel towards the fire truck parked outside the dining room.

The pump begins to chug and, all of a sudden, the hose roars into life. Water sprays everywhere and the campers run for cover, shrieking and laughing.

As he watches the chaos, Lindsay grins.

"The message I'd probably want to give to the young ones is there are choices in life. There are positives. You're not doing it alone - look at the bright side. Think about what you’ve done over the past week, how you’ve made friends and how you’ve respected others," he says.

"We’re just showing them the positive things that can happen if they put their mind to it."

A group of campers taking part in a trust building exercise.

Red Cross' Rise Up camp is held twice a year in Manawatu and Gisborne, with a similar programme held in Taranaki. For more information about our work supporting young Kiwis, head to redcross.org.nz