As my Peace Corps service winds to a close, and I think back on all of the projects that I have done, I can’t deny that my stint as co-director of Camp HERO 2016 has been the most difficult but meaningful experience of my past two years.
For those of you unfamiliar with Camp HERO, it is a four-day leadership camp for young men from the Colombian Caribbean coast. The camp started last year based on an idea developed by RPCV Jeremy Booth, who served as one of the original directors alongside Erick Uribe and Danny Butterfoss. Think of it as the male counterpart to Camp GLOW. The acronym “HERO” represents the fundamental goals of our camp: “Health, Equality, Respect, and Outreach,” which are taught through a series of workshops focused on goal setting, gender equality, nutrition, sexual health, leadership, teamwork, and community service. On top of this, the campers also participated in fun activities such as swimming in the local waterfall, performing a community trash cleanup, participating in mini Olympic Games, and cooking s’mores while reflecting on their experience around a campfire. The camp took place in the beautiful pueblo of Minca, Magdalena, located in the Colombian Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Since the first year of Camp HERO was such a success, fellow director Alex Torres and I were under a lot of pressure to make sure this year’s camp lived up to expectations. After a lot of hard work, and some hiccups along the way, which were expertly handled by our camp counselors – Peter Andringa, Derek Comba, Trevor Johnson, James Holodnak, Rocky Reed, Sam Shroder, Galen Russell, Dylan McGonnell, and Carrie Shoultz – we were able to give another unforgettable camp experience to the teens and even expand the scope of the camp by hosting a total of 36 students from Atlántico, Bolívar, and Magdalena, including two junior counselors from last year’s camp.
The camp was a whirlwind of excitement, stress, and logistics, but at the end of it all, as I stood with my students on the bus back to my pueblo, I couldn’t help but be overcome by a feeling of utter gratitude and bliss. Now, more than ever, I am thankful for being part of a team with such motivated and flexible fellow volunteers who make experiences like these possible. I am thankful for my co-director, Alex Torres, who was the perfect partner for such a venture and who complemented all of my strengths and weaknesses. I am thankful for Peace Corps for giving me this opportunity. Most of all, I am thankful for the youth of Colombia who have shared with us all their hopes, dreams, and desires to move forward in life, despite all of the challenges that they face.
I am proud to have helped continue the legacy of Camp HERO, and I can’t wait to pass the torch onto the next group. I know it will be in capable hands.
Below is a video by Carrie Shoultz documenting camp activities: