By Danny Butterfoss
Test results are still being analyzed. It’s too early to measure long-term impact, but according to everyone involved, Peace Corps Colombia’s inaugural Camp HERO was a rousing success.
Held from October 9th through October 23th at the IED Agroindustrial de Minca, about forty-five minutes outside Santa Marta, Camp HERO (Health, Equality, Respect, and Outreach) brought together twenty-five teenage boys, spanning from ten communities across the region, for a four-day camp aimed at developing young leaders. Eleven Peace Corps volunteers and five Colombian counterparts participated as camp counselors.
Inspired by the success of Peace Corps Colombia’s first two editions of Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), Camp HERO’s organizers wanted to offer boys a similar opportunity. Recognizing that gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it quickly became the focus of the camp. In one session, led by PCV Sammy Quezada, boys drew their idea of a typical man, and in doing so reflected on masculine and feminine stereotypes in the workplace, in family settings, in relationships, and in the media.
Leadership represented another important aspect of Camp HERO. PCV Alex Torres led one session, and PCV Jimmy Everett gave a workshop on goal-setting alongside his counterpart Alberto Paez. Campers also participated in activities (led by PCV Michael Owen) which emphasized problem-solving and teamwork. They even heard from a panel of Colombian professionals.
For health, another of Camp HERO’s themes, four volunteers from the Santa Marta branch of the Colombian Red Cross discussed the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases. PCV Ricardo Martinez gave a session on nutrition, and campers began each morning with exercise led by Colombian counterpart Nelson Palomino.
Campers sprang into action to fulfill the community service portion of Camp HERO. Half of the campers painted classrooms (and consequently, themselves), and the other half cleaned up trash in Minca. Afterwards, campers met with their assigned Peace Corps volunteer to brainstorm service projects for their own communities.
Camp HERO also included plenty of good old-fashioned fun. Campers hiked to Pozo Azul, a beautiful (and freezing) natural pool and waterfall, and were also inspired by Kevin Costner’s McFarland, USA on movie night. The next day, five teams competed for glory in the Olympic Games. Some events were familiar, like soccer, but others presented new challenges: bouncing ping pong balls onto pieces of bread slathered with peanut butter, or chucking cheese balls at their counselors’ shaving cream-covered heads.
The bonfire on the last night of camp brought another first for the participants: s’mores. PCV Jimmy gave the boys a brief explanation of the American tradition, concluding, “…and then you have to do the s’more dance.”
He was joking, but with an infectious beat from Colombian counterpart Cristian Arteta’s alegre drum, and a bellowing chant of, “E-SMOOORES! E-SMOOORES!,” from PCV Sammy, it wasn’t long before campers and counselors alike were dancing around the fire, honoring the imaginary gods of graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.
Mario Haydar, 13, of Suan, said the bonfire was his favorite activity of all. Naming his least favorite part, however, proved more difficult. He thought for a minute before answering, “Saying goodbye to all of my new friends.”