Thursday, December 15, 2011

Building Things Up Ugandan Style

It seemed only fitting that as the snow has started falling in the Minnesota (sort of), we set-up our Christmas decorations, and the year draws to a close that we counsel at a summer camp. Well it was not exactly a summer camp, rather a holiday camp. A few days ago we wrapped up Camp BUILD. BUILD standing for Boys of Uganda in Leadership Development. The camp was organized and primarily supported by Peace Corps volunteers. It was the first time this camp has happened and it was run concurrently to Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). The camp focused on how to prepare the boys of Uganda to be effective and promising leaders for the future of this country. There were 137 boys from all over the country at the camp. Conveniently, because they were from all over the country their common language was English. For many of the boys it was their first time being at a camp, learning in more unique ways then just chalk-and-talk, and meeting boys from other parts of the country.

Both Emily and I were counselors for about 9 campers each. We greatly enjoyed working with the boys who were all between the ages of 12 and 15. I personally was never a huge fan of summer camps, and as such was nervous about being a counselor. But everyday I felt excited by the campers and energized by their spirit. Emily had two campers in her group that had impairments to their vision, which added some thought provoking challenges to planning activities that included all group members. So Emily had the pleasure of leading the Great Grey Tigers, whose group song went to the theme song “We are the Titans.” My group which for all intensive purposes was better then Emily’s group, she may not admit to this, was called the Super Eagles. The week had five themes so I will tell you a bit more about each day.

The theme for Day 1 was Building Yourself. Each day they had breakfast, then three sessions during the day, and then they did sports and other activities in the evenings. The first session on building yourself was about Self Esteem and Self Awareness. We talked about what each of them perceived as their strengths, and what things about themselves they like. The next session was about alcohol/drugs & debate. The campers learned the value of debating ideas with one another, and how this can make you a good leader. Finally, the last session of the day was a scavenger hunt and session on what makes a good leader.

Day 2 had the theme building your community. The first two sessions of the day were on domestic violence and violence in your school. We have had opportunities in the past to talk about domestic violence and caning in schools with Ugandans, but it is always eye opening to hear some of their perspectives. The biggest thing that I really tried to get across to my boys is to realize the future that they will lead does not and should not be the same as their parents. It is hard to get them to realize this sometimes when one person has lead your country for 25 years, but it was fun to get them to think about. Then in the afternoon there were two sessions on conflict resolution. Emily and I ran one of the sessions about techniques to avoid getting into harmful conflict, and what it means to build good conflict resolution. We also gave each group a scenario and had them make a skit to show both good and bad conflict resolution.

The third day’s theme was Build your Health. The first session of the day was on HIV/AIDS and Malaria. They were taught the facts about these diseases that are some of the leading causes of death in Uganda. The second session of the day was on water sanitation. During the water session they learned how to make a device called a tippy tap to wash your hands, and also how toilets work. The final session of the day was on reproductive health, hygiene, and condoms. Campers were glued to this presentation and had many questions about sex, condoms, and other similar issues. It was also really well set-up allowing each of the campers to try putting a condom on a fake penis. Emily talked about how this was especially helpful for campers who were blind. This session also opened up some good later discussions about sex and relationships. It always feels good to dispel some of the sex myths in Uganda (i.e. If you don’t have sex five times a week with your wife your penis will explode).

Day 4 was about Building your Environment. The day had two main activities. The first activity was to go to a Demonstration Farm, which was a PCV’s site. Here the students learned about how they could farm in ways that both help the environment and help them either health wise or in income generation. We learned about the value of having cows not graze (the cows might not agree), using organic methods to dispel pests, and how to conserve water and use drip irrigation. I learned a lot at the farm and it was probably the most exciting session for me, and I think the campers really found it informative as well. Then each of the groups got to walk to Lake Victoria. Very few of the campers had ever seen Lake Victoria before; many had never even left their home district before camp. So many just gazed out over the lake. One of Emily’s campers said, “It is the first lake I have seen with my own two eyes!” The rest of the day was restful after our long walk but we enjoyed watching a couple planet earth videos. A couple of evenings during the week we also watched a couple of American Boyhood favorites, that went a little over the heads of the Ugandans, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars IV.

The final day’s theme was Building Uganda. The day started with a sports day with Camp GLOW. Each boy group got teamed with a girl group to compete with. Overall the day was incredibly fun, and as Ugandans would put it, “It was very colorful.” We played tug-of-war, kickball, sack races, obstacle course, and maybe a few other things. People were very excited, both campers and counselors a like. After the events were over we had some speeches by the Camp GLOW director, PC Uganda Country Director, and the American Ambassador in Uganda. So the kids got a kick out of knowing that the Ambassador was the most important American in Uganda. When we returned back to Camp Build, which was just down the street at a Secondary school from GLOW, we enjoyed a final relaxing day. A couple volunteers lead a session on how you will become a successful leader. Then in the evening we had presentations of certificates (Ugandans live for their certificates) and also presentations of projects the students had been working on all week. Some of the activities that they did (which you will get to enjoy in our forthcoming vlog) were in drama, dance, music, creative writing, building (they built trebuchets), and art.

The final thing that we did on Friday was a dance party, which the campers loved. The second the music starts they are streaming onto the dance floor, it was a cute final thing. In the morning we all bid each other farewell, and boarded are buses. Overall we both really enjoyed the week, and I think it has lead us to being worn out since we returned on Saturday. But we found the camp to be one of the most exciting things we had done yet in our Peace Corps experience!

Happy Christmas/Summer Camp Season!


P.S. Here are a couple links for Camp Build:

Our Camp BUILD pics - a link to our facebook album from the week

Official Camp BUILD blog- a link to the blog that was put together before and during the week by the "media" staff from camp BUILD

Official Camp BUILD photos - a link to the "official" camp BUILD pics from the week, from the same people

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