Saturday, September 01, 2007

Summer reca(m)p

Peace Corps service is shot through with down time. Winters are book reading bonanzas spent sitting by heaters in Armenia and outside of huts in Peace Corps Africa. But summers… well summers are for camps. In Peace Corps Armenia we’ve got a camp for just about everything. We’ve got eco camps, girls camps, boys camps, international camps, sports camps, human rights camps, computer camps… you name a cause and we’ve probably got a camp.

I and the other volunteers yearned for the chance to be productive and busy for extended periods of time; planning games, chasing kids around campsites at 4 in the morning and other such nonsense. I was personally able to head up one camp myself and be a counselor and planner for many others. Below is a recap of some of the highlights (complete with nifty pictures).

IOC camp 2007

The IOC camp was the first of many international camps I was to be a part of. With Armenia being relatively isolated, one of the big things is to try to expose Armenian youth to other cultures and ideas. We had participants from a few other countries, but most interestingly was that we were able to get participants from Turkey to come. With a closed border and animosity of both sides, it was a great to see all these participants from Turkey and Armenia getting along swimmingly.

This is the arrival of one or our Turkish Participants. It was awesome to see how they were embraced by all the Armenians.

Three guesses what the American counselors are singing here….? Yes that’s right…. Lean on me. Being campy = Cliché.

This is a cool photo of our camp director Lusine looking out over the crowd of our participants. The participants had so much energy. It was impressive and as a teacher it was great to be able to tap into.

A big part of this camp was cultural exchange. This is a pair of Armenians performing a traditional dance.

This is another of our Turkish participants doing a traditional dance. It was explained that these Turkish dances sometimes mimic animals. This particular dance was mimicking an eagle.

The Armenians at the camp greatly outnumbered the internationals. This photo shows the Armenian contingent performing a song for the final day talent show. The group of Armenians we had at this camp was really quite impressive. I was so blessed to meet so many bright driven young people.

The group of Peace Corps counselors at the IOC camp was awesome. Because we live in pretty remote areas, we really don’t get to know the volunteers from other parts of the country all that well. This camp gave me a chance to get to know a great group of PCVs from other parts of the country. This picture shows us in the typical Caucasian squatting stance (not as easy as it looks), surely talking about something important like…. The current price of eggplant in the market, or maybe green beans.

Youth Without Borders / Under the Same Sky Camps

The names of these two camps quickly betray that they were European Funded camps that no right thinking American funder would ever give money to. Unlike the IOC camp, the European Commission is all about straight cultural exchange. Whereas the IOC camp actually had curriculum and classes that taught things, these two camps bring together people from many different European nations to exchange their cultures. There was a service element during the camps, meaning that every morning the participants would wake up and go do something with an orphanage or some old peoples home. But besides those three hours of the day it was basically sitting around talking and hopefully exchanging cultures. For people who know me personally, these camps were certainly not my idea, but this is the bread and butter of an organization that I work with, so I swallowed my tongue and exchanged culture for a few weeks.

Here is a group of us (Latvians, a Georgian, an Englishman and yours truly) culturally exhanging while taking a break from one of the work projects.

This is my counterpart (who is awesome) and another Armenian participant after a long bout of cultural exchange. This time the cultural exhange took the shape of the singing of “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions numerous times. By numerous I mean about 26. They love that song.

This is a photo of a few of the participants culturally exhanging by a wall overlooking the unfinished Soviet buildings that surround the city where I live. Notice the Headband. There’s a cultural exchange for you.

At the end of one of the camps we had a talent show, and a few of us created a musical/play that mocked the cultural clash between the very forward Latvian male participants and the very conservative Armenian females at the camp. It was a hilarious play. What was less hilarious was watching the horrified conservative Armenian females fend off the Latvian advances. That was some cultural exchange.

BRO Camp 2007

BRO camp has been my baby since I got to my site. BRO stands for Boys Reaching Out. It was the offshoot of a similar young womens camp done in many other Peace Corps countries. That camp was called GLOW (Girls leading our world) but for obvious reasons the name had to be adjusted. Merely replacing the “G” simply wouldn’t suffice.

The camp brought together the best and the brightest boys aged 11-15 from all over the country to learn about leadership and other important topics relevant to the life of young men. The most useful parts I felt were the lessons we had on Health/Knowing your changing body/STDs/and gender. We were able to create an atmosphere where the boys felt comfortable asking any questions they may have had. In this way we were able to dispel many many many many many misconceptions and traditional wivestales. Though I had to stand in front of a crowd of pubescent boys and answer some of the most awkward questions ever posed, it was well worth it. We blew some minds at this camp.

Here is a group of the young men after climbing a mountain. The camp was set in a fairly scenic area, just near the Georgian border in the north and the Turkish border to the west.

A camp isn’t a camp without the shirts. A few of the participants with their shirts.

Here I am during our “we’ll answer any question you ask” session. It lasted for almost 3 hours. They boys really felt comfortable asking about absolutely anything. And by anything I mean any taboo awkward subject that you can think of they asked about. It was wonderful to be able to talk frankly with them about things that they may never be able to discuss openly again.

One the boys. I love this picture.

This is Jamie (another PCV) teaching the kids about gender. This was the hardest lesson for the kids.The gender roles in Armenia are so set that it was rough to even crack the façade. But hopefully we were able to at least get a few of the boys thinking about why gender roles in Armenia are the way they are.

The future leaders of Armenia.

In conclusion… with the summer done and all my camps over with, I get to settle in and wait for winter to come. But first I’m off to climb Mt. Ararat. It’s real tall, so hopefully I’ll make it down off the mountain in order to post a blog with some pictures from the top.