Archive for the ‘camps’ Category

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Protected: 7/12/2012 – Camp HEAL, Serhivka Edition

July 31, 2012

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Protected: 6/8/2012 – English Language Refresher Camp

June 12, 2012

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Protected: 2/15/2012 – Camp HEAL

February 23, 2012

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Protected: 12/26/2011 – The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Potential Pet Project

February 21, 2012

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Protected: 8/21/2011 – English Language Refresher Camp

August 25, 2011

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Protected: 7/15/2011 – Language Refresher Camp

July 17, 2011

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7/8/2011 – Camp H.E.A.L.

July 17, 2011

Camp HEAL was one of the best experiences I have had so far in Peace Corps. This is the camp I’ve mentioned before when trying to raise money that promotes HIV/AIDS and human trafficking awareness. I had to travel to the other side of Ukraine to attend (about 25 hours of trains and buses, not including layovers), but I am so glad I made the trek because the kids were so wonderful, the camp was so well organized and run, and the message so important. Plus I got to see Andrew and Dan, two wonderful friends I haven’t seen in a long time while making some incredible new friends (a special shout out to Danielle and Erika!). In hopes not to bore you, I’m just going to tell some of my favorite episodes throughout the week:

Leadership Class
This was the first class I taught along with Dan and a few others. Dan was the head teacher which meant the class was guaranteed to be a good time because he’s a slightly crazy teacher just like me (not to mention a great volunteer), and it didn’t hurt that we just had a really fun lesson plan. We would talk about what qualities a leader has, play a game where they had to guess the name of famous leaders, stuff like that. My part of the lesson was to give this little “You can change the world!” type speech after discussing all the problems in the world and how we could solve them. As a direct result of this class, I decided I should consider becoming a motivational speaker. Though I guess it doesn’t hurt that when I say they can change the world, I actually honestly believe it. I guess I still have those stars in my eyes… Anyways, it was so much fun teaching this class, we were all a little nuts, and one of the teachers would try to keep us in line by telling us we were going “off track” when we started things we probably shouldn’t have said.
Highlights of the class –
Me: “Poverty, homelessness, hunger, war, drugs, crime, these are all problems in the world. Honestly, the world sucks.” [In the background: “Off track, Michelle!”] “So how can you change the world? What can you do to make it suck less?” [“OFF TRACK, MICHELLE!”]
Me: “You don’t have to do anything big to make a difference, every little bit counts! Just imagine you’re walking to school one day – [pretend to walk to school] – I’m walking to school, walking to school, oh look! piece of trash – [bend over to pick up trash and throw it away] – walking to school, walking to school.”(This was apparently one of the PCV’s favorite things I did. During the last class, I almost skipped right over this when they started yelling, “Walk to school, Michelle, walk to school!”)
Dan: “How about Gandhi? What bad qualities did he have?” Everyone: “…” Dan: “Yeah, I can’t think of anything bad for Gandhi, either. Except he had bad fashion sense.”
Dan: “What would the world be like if Gandhi had decided to sleep in? What would have happened if he had hit the snooze button? Things would be so different if Gandhi had just decided to stay home and…not…” Everyone: “…” Dan: “I’m just going to stop now.”
Well, maybe you had to have been there. 🙂

Condoms, Condoms, Condoms
Of course part of HIV/AIDS awareness is to discuss transmission and prevention. While dividing duties for this class we got to the part that included bananas and condoms and I quickly volunteered. Teaching students how to put on condoms? How fun is that, not to mention how important for so many reasons? Plus I just have no embarrassment when it comes to this sort of thing. So every class I would stand up waving my banana at them, demonstrate how to properly put on a condom, and then they would all get their own bananas and condoms to try it. Only a couple of people refused to do it (which was totally fine), and there was a surprisingly small amount of uncomfortable laughter through this section. But telling about 20 students to show me their bananas and having all these condom wrapped bananas waved in the air? Priceless. Don’t worry, someone got pictures of all of this. Oh, and of the condom balloons Dan made to show how strong they are and how well they stretch out. Yeah, we had a lot of fun with condoms…

Disco!
Oh, Ukrainians and their discos. When we first got our schedules, I was shocked to see there were no discos planned since they are so popular, but I shouldn’t have worried, we ended up having one almost every night. I danced each time acting all crazy, and it was a lot of fun. But having discos every night meant that kids would lose interest as the week continued, so the discos got steadily smaller throughout the week. One night, I walked in and found no one on the dance floor, but did see a couple of girls hanging out in the back working on a project. When I got close, though, I saw they weren’t working. Instead, they were staring in horror at the ground at a huge puddle of spilt blue paint. Right on the carpet. Oh my God. There was a flurry of action as more counselors came in and saw the mess, grabbing napkins, water, salt (did you know salt picks up stains? – really, it’s pretty amazing!), anything to try and clean up the mess. The two girls couldn’t stop staring at the mess, guilt etched in every line on their face as disco music played around us. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed one of the condom balloons Dan had made earlier and began bouncing it around. The girls perked up and started bouncing the balloon back to me. We popped it around for a while until I noticed more kids trickling in for the disco, so I slowly started moving us to the dance floor, hitting the balloon to the new kids so they wouldn’t notice the mess. About twenty minutes later, six condoms were floating around the air above the kids’ heads as they danced and laughed, including the two who had spilt the paint. When the counselors cleaned the mess as best they could, they joined us in our fun. I did notice a couple starting to dance a little too close, and in memory of Mr. Munoz back in jr high, I grabbed one of the blown up condoms and placed it between the two of them, gently pushing them apart as the cracked up laughing. Honestly, this was probably the best night I have yet had in Peace Corps – seeing the kids having so much fun, being so comfortable, blown up condoms bouncing everywhere, music, laughter…it was wonderful.

River Fun
The place the camp was held is an old Russian sanatorium located near a river, so I tried to take advantage of this as often as possible by swimming almost every day. Sometimes I had to wait until after our discos, taking a late night dip as my friends constantly reassured me that there was nothing in the water (what, I have a thing about water I can’t see in!). But I really enjoyed the moments we swam during the day because we would throw Frisbees and balls with the kids, constantly having splash wars, and playing chicken. Danielle was my chicken partner (she was on my shoulders), and I’m proud to say we kicked so much butt, almost completely undefeated! I never knew I had such chicken skills!

Fourth of July
Our Fourth was pretty low key. I spent most of the day painting a huge banner for the holiday instead of teaching classes on Human Rights, another class I really enjoyed being a part of once I was able to join. But that evening, we taught the kids the history of the “Star Spangled Banner”, sang, and then set off some fireworks over the river. Once the kids had been put to bed, all of us Americans gathered together, singing patriotic songs, playing games, and generally being silly. This is the second Fourth I’ve celebrated in other countries, and there’s nothing like being surrounded by Americans on this day when you’re away from home – there’s just something about it, about the fact that we all come from such different places with such different experiences and yet come together and remember that no matter our differences, we are all American. You may not know each other, may have nothing in common, but you have this connection, something you all understand, something that binds you together. It’s just…beautiful.

Talent Show
This was one of our night-time activities, where the kids had to make up skits to perform about certain topics. One was a fairy tale where condom ninjas threw condom ninja stars at the HIV tower where the Evil Unprotected Sex had hidden the princess. Another was about the difference between Americans and Ukrainians, which had everyone doubled over with laughter (one of my favorites was “Americans always sit on the floor” – the girl who played the American came in, looked at the chairs, and just shrugged before plopping herself on the floor, while the Ukrainian gave this great “What the hell are you doing?!” look before carefully perching on a chair). Yet another was about Camp HEAL itself where each student was one of the counselors and they thoroughly made fun of us, including yours truly where the girl danced like me including my “does the blindfold work?” crazy monkey dance I would do to make sure students couldn’t see (it really flattered me that they chose me to make fun of, especially when the girl came up to me and asked me to teach her my dance moves – I even drew my tattoo on her ankle for authenticity). Even we counselors made a skit, a very clever parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” about Camp HEAL. But I was most looking forward to the one Andrew and a couple of other guys were going to do. Andrew had teasingly given me hints about it earlier, that I was going to love his talent, and I was so excited to see what they had up their sleeves. The three guys walked out and struck their poses, and I stood up to make sure I could see. I about died when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” came on and the guys started to dance. Oh, man, it was priceless, especially when they slapped their butts. I was crying with laughter by the time they took their bows.

Condom Fashion Show
This was so funny! To help drive the point about safe sex, we decided to have a fashion show where they had to make outfits using condoms. Some of them were really nice and actual clothes, one group made a lovely evening gown out of trash bags with a corset made out of condoms. But most of them were just really silly. They first group made two outfits where one of the girls dressed as a boy wearing a condom bowtie and belt, while one of the boys dressed as a girl with a blown-up condom skirt complete with fake boobs and a trash bag braid that hung over “her” shoulder. The best and ultimate winner of the fashion show, though, was the university group. The model, a guy, came out wearing one of the tablecloths over his whole outfit as “Eye of the Tiger” played. He walked around the circle once, eyeing everyone, until the music climaxed, he threw off his cape, and the music changed – “Like a Virgin” blared as he revealed his condom bikini top and blown up condom skirt. The entire camp exploded with laughter and applause as that boy worked it. He shook his hips as he walked to the front of the room, then he spun around, bent over, and revealed his black thong, eliciting more laughter. He strutted his stuff back down the catwalk, taking a moment to give a saucy wink to one of the main backers of the camp who had arrived that day (to the mortification of a couple of the volunteer directors), and taking a final bow to wild applause. These kids are so amazing! Of course, a condom fashion show wouldn’t be complete without Carl the Condom, the name of our safe sex mascot! Andrew played the part – I almost fell out of my seat laughing when in he came, an almost seven foot tell condom, dancing with a sign that said, “Hi! I’m Carl the Condom! Use me!” Oh, Lord, I’ll never be able to look at him the same way again!

Bonfire
The last night of camp we held a huge bonfire, partly to wrap up the week and also partly because the day before was a Ukrainian summer festival holiday of some sort that required a bonfire to jump over. We set up our speakers outside, blared music, danced around the fire, made Ukrainian style s’mores (made with a fluffy sugar candy that’s kind of like marshmallow, chocolate, and honey cookies), and generally acting silly. Perfect way to end the week!

Leaving
When I got into the taxi that would take me away from Camp HEAL, I thought that was going to be the end of that. A wonderful week was now over, I had had so much fun, and it was time to say goodbye. On the bus back to Kharkiv, I enjoyed watching the countryside passing by, seeing the famous sunflower fields that stretch as far as you can see for the first time, looking forward to the next step in my travels. When I entered the station, I was surprised to discover a huge group of students on their way home with one of my favorite new PCV friends, Danielle! I joined them, and Danielle and I decided to run to the grocery store to get some food for our respective train rides. When we got back, imagine our shock when there were her students standing in two lines, bent over and stomping their feet, singing the “Funky Chicken”, a new song they had learned that week. It was so amazing, they went through every song and game they had learned that week including some leadership and teamwork games, like they weren’t yet ready to say goodbye. Danielle and I watched in amusement and amazement (we weren’t the only ones, everyone in the train station was watching and would try to sneak pictures), and I was just so touched that they enjoyed everything so much that they wanted to keep it going. It proves to me that they learned something, that an impact was made, that maybe, just maybe, they absorbed the lessons as well as the games, and in some way we were able to touch and change their lives. It wasn’t long until we were pulled into the games, and we laughed and joked together until I had to say goodbye.

Really, what an amazing camp! The kids learned so much about so many important things yet still had so much fun. Ukraine has the fastest growing rate of infection of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe, and hopefully none of these kids will ever put themselves at risk because they know how to protect themselves. They also had to create projects that they will be able to take and implement at home. They will be able to raise awareness and hopefully make an impact upon their cities, upon Ukraine, upon the world. I will never forget this experience. It was so wonderful, so rewarding, an absolute and total blast, and I am so lucky to have been chosen to go. Best camp ever.

Oh, and an extra shout out to those of you who donated to the camp. I will never be able to thank you enough for helping to make this happen – really, you were a part of something amazing.