WHILE most young people enjoy the extended school holidays and World Cup, high school pupils from Gauteng host cities took time out to learn more about life skills, the environment and its conservation.

More than 400 Grade 10 and 11 pupils from various schools were randomly chosen to take part in a week-long camp from June 7 as part of the department's water conservation campaign.

As part of the annual camp hosted by the department of water Affairs in Gauteng, this year's project encompassed the World Cup theme, youth month and conservation.

Pupils were able to watch the soccer spectacle at their camp at the Ithuba Community School in Ekurhuleni.

The Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve was used as base camp.

The pupils woke up at the crack of dawn every day and climbed a hill at the nature reserve. Once at the top they waited for the sun to rise and then sang the national anthem.

"This is a great experience, but I wish we did not have to wake up so early," said 17-year-old Thabisho Mokete.

One of his peers, Jaqueline Mbatha, said the camp stimulated her interested in environmental studies.

"I have learnt that for us human beings to survive, we need to look after our environment, starting now," Mbatha said.

They were also taught about the flora and fauna, recycling and how to save water, and about the indigenous plants and how to conserve them.

They also had to go into a township and learn about water purification.

The department is in partnership with the Ekurhuleni municipality and the East Rand Water Care Company.

Motivational speakers and life coaches were also roped in to encourage the youngsters.

One of them was young entrepreneur Billy Guy Bhembe. He had the pupils' undivided attention when he told them about how he persevered and worked against all odds to become a successful businessman.

"Do not let anyone stand between you and your dream. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it," Bhembe said.

Project manager Basil Chaza said there were plans to take the three-year-old project nationally.

"Young people do not have anything to do during school holidays, so we decided to come up with a holiday camp to engage with them and make a contribution to their development," Chaza said.

He said it was important for municipalities to not compete against each other all the time, but to take time to learn from one another.

"We have to start engaging the youth from an early age. We should start at primary schools and teach them from an early age," he said.

Chaza, a passionate motivational speaker, is also deputy commissioner of the South African Scouts Association.

Department of water affairs spokesperson Dumisani Mahlangu said they wanted to take in more youngsters but were unable to because of budget constraints.

"Raising funds was not easy. But we managed to work with the little we managed to secure," Mahlangu said.