Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Summer Camp

The idea came from my good friend Joan Ngo about a year ago. Our group (G-27) was all together for an IST – in-service training about four or five months after we had been sworn in as volunteers. She thought putting together a summer camp that would focus on civic education and leadership would be a great way to focus on one of the themes from our project plan and a way to develop the young people from our various communities. I told her immediately that I was interested in being part of the planning. After all, planning and organizing are my forte.

We started fundraising early and did pretty well for ourselves thanks to the support of our fellow volunteers and the very kind friends and family back home that sent us cash and gifts-in-kind. We also benefitted from a small projects assistance grant (SPA) from USAID and a generous donation from the Misiones government (a department/state in Paraguay).I handled the money, Joan handled the curriculum / activities and coordinating and soliciting facilitators and Jesus handled the venue and working with his department/state of Misiones to solicit a donation. The week leading up the camp saw Joan and I spending more time together than we had during our entire service-to-date. She bunked at my place while we made phone calls, met with people, gathered our resources, went shopping, and discussed how to handle what was coming our way.

We got to the campgrounds early (but not as early as we had planned) and were relieved when things started working just as we had imagined. The campground staff was helpful and kind. The participants showed up on time and the registration process (which I was handling) went going smoothly. Our youth participants starting warming to each other right away and I noticed that many introduced themselves to those that arrived before them. Before I knew it, it was time to begin….

The first day went extremely well. The participants listened with respect to our first presenters and asked great questions. One of the campground rules is that guests wash their plates after each meal. The staff carefully explained the process and I was amazed to see it in action. All of the participants pitched in, the plates, cups, silverware got done in no time, and I was thrilled to see everyone working together so well.

The days seemed so long and there were so many details to attend to. I found myself talking to the campground director several times a day asking my questions and answering his. I was checking on details like toilet paper in the bathrooms and cold water in our main gazebo. I was ensuring that our projector was set up at the right time and that presenters could get their presentations up and running on my laptop. It seems difficult now to think of all the little things that I was dealing with them and which seemed to keep me busy all day and most of the night. A few days after the camp, Joan and I bemoaned the fact that in being responsible for all the “little things” kept us from being in the moment and kept us from having a lot of one-on-one contact with many of our young leaders.

The days lasted forever – or so it felt at the time yet the camp was over in the blink of an eye. The youth participants bonded and we volunteers got to know each other better. We all learned a lot from the camp whether it was the process of working with Paraguayans in organizing an event of this size (61 people total) or how to work as a team or how to work with Paraguayan youth (aged 15-25) or what kind of activities work with this age group in the context of the Paraguayan culture. The evaluations we gave the youth were telling and we started thinking of what we would if we had it to do all again. It is our hope that a few volunteers will take this on as a project next year. The population of Paraguay is young and it is this new, young generation that will move this country forward as it struggles with the challenges of a new and growing democracy. The camp gave us all hope – for the volunteers it meant that we could do something to make a difference and for the young Paraguayans that they could do something to make a difference. I have about six months left of my service and I can’t wait to see what happens in these last six months, though I suspect that this leadership camp will be one of the things for which I am most proud.

Next up: GAD (Gender and Development) camp with four youth from my town, continued work on my thesis and an intercultural training I’m designing and hoping to implement with AFS (American Field Service) Paraguay.

Whew….whoever said that things slow down in the summer (it’s summer down here) had it wrong (for the record, I believe I’m the one that said that). I can’t remember ever being this busy and the heat (90+ degrees most days) certainly doesn’t help. But hey, it’s the toughest job I’ll ever love…right? I’m still here people…keepin’ it real!

Take care of yourselves and each other….

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