By Shanna Crumley
Summer camp. Singing songs around the campfire. Playing capture-the-flag with glow sticks. Friendship bracelets. Water-skiing. New friends and wind-up cameras.
Camp is a great thing, a place for kids to learn and grow. Whether it’s a day sports camp, a stayaway summer camp, an outdoor experience or an indoor English immersion, camp is unforgettable.
One of the most rewarding project opportunities for a PCV is to bring that once-in-a-lifetime experience to Colombia by helping with a camp for the kids we serve. Colombian students jump at any chance to get out of their classrooms and experience new things (even English!) in a camp setting.
During my service, I’ve helped other volunteers with various English, leadership and youth development camps and led several of my own.
I encourage my fellow PCVs to give the camp thing a try! Here are some tips and lessons learned for planning and executing a camp.
Build a strong team. The key to a successful camp is to choose helpers who are dependable and committed to leading a fun, safe camp for the kids and to working together. The more people committed to camp (read: fellow PCVs, community members, school staff, parents), the better chance your camp has of being successful and sustainable. From junior counselors to guest speakers to empanada makers, a diverse group helps.
You can never over-communicate or over-clarify in Colombia. My school asked me to hold an English camp during a December vacation. Excited, I planned a week of dynamic activities and team-building games, then enlisted the help of six other PCVs. The first day, the PCVs woke up early, packed their lunches and rode the bus for hours…and not a single student showed up.
I was devastated. My school had completely flaked. Not only was I horribly disappointed in my school, but I had wasted the valuable time and resources of my co-volunteers.
Even when it seems that the message is clear, take care to ensure that everyone involved understands their specific roles or tasks. As the leader, it falls on you to touch bases with every person on your team periodically, checking in and keeping them on the same page.
Get it in writing. It’s not official unless it’s in writing in Colombia. For camps, it is important to get official approval to use the space and equipment and, of course, to have the kids participate! From school administrator-signed announcements to signed permission slips, try to have information and approval as visible and accessible as possible, even if it’s just constant Facebook reminders about the camp deadlines.
Back up plans. Anywhere in the world, this is true, but especially in Colombia! Be a good American and have a plan B and C. Water at GLOW girls’ camp is out for two days? Take the waterfall trip early! Students don’t show up to camp? Recruit nearby kids (with parents’ permiso.) Extra time between classes? Pull out your “just in case” games list (Simon Says is strangely addicting here.)
Keep the campers busy. As with anything involving kids, half the work is keeping them busy and entertained constantly—happy. Tired kids don’t have time for homesickness or getting into trouble. At Camp GLOW, we plan every minute of the day to be filled up with workshops, physical games, team-building activities and sharing time. Even the transitions between activities are taken as opportunities to play hand games, practice team cheers or clean up the dorm rooms. If kids are happily exhausted by the end of the day, mission accomplished.
Post-camp follow up
Write it up. Congratulations on finishing camp! But wait! Before you go celebrate, do everyone a favor and do a wrap up evaluation. Ideally, as a PCV you will incorporate some M&E tools to assess camp impact, get feedback from the participants and evaluate the lessons learned. Even the horror stories will help someone in the future.
Say thank you! Don’t forget to say thank you to your great team and to anybody who gave time, money, ideas and energy to this project. Thank you cards are a simple, professional gesture; coca-cola has also been known to work for the younger team members.
Now, it’s your turn! Happy camping!
Note: These were just a few tips and lessons learned that fit in the Oíste word count. For any advice or additional horror stories, feel free to contact me!