June 28, 2009

8 Days a Week

We're early-to-bed, early-to-rise sort of folk, which means we generally don't make too many appearances in Kriva Palanka's night life. When we do, though, two things always strike me as funny: the number of people drinking coffee at 11 o'clock at night and the fact that beer costs the same as Coke or mineral water. It's as if the cost of getting menus printed rises exponentially with each unique character used, so the cafes settled on a flat 60-denar price for all beverages.

Last night we just had to make an exception to our stay-in routine. The counselors from Healthy Kids Day Camp invited us out for some celebratory drinks and laughs about the week. The camp ended in the afternoon and we were all thoroughly exhausted, but the euphoria from such a satisfying week carried us along...though it most definitely did not carry Jillian and I to the disco with the teenagers. That's one bridge too far for us. We called it an "early" night and walked home in the chilly night air.

That chill was courtesy of the cold front that's been hanging over the Balkans since Sunday afternoon. Like I wrote in the previous post, it caused us some serious organizational headaches. The cool air and rain derailed our plans for fun in the hot sun, i.e. water balloon games out on the town's soccer field. Instead, we spent Monday scrambling, wondering if this thing was actually going to happen...where could we squeeze 100 kids, 25 counselors, content classes, an art session, and games? Luckily our only legitimate option, the primary school, was available and with some ingenuity and creative use of space we made it work.

I wonder what Oppenheimer and his team envisioned before they test-detonated the first atomic bomb. I mean, there was no precedent for the experiment, so there must have been all kinds of crazy scenarios running through their minds right before the big blast...would it be a dud? Would it wipe New Mexico off the map? I mention this because I felt this vague, floating sensation of unknowing apprehension right before the children showed up on the first day of camp. I looked around at the counselors in their team t-shirts. They all showed up, that was a good sign. But how would they react when 100 children appeared in the lot behind the school? Would a bomb of panic go off or would they rise to the occasion? Would camp run smoothly or would it be the running of the bulls?

Well, they did great. Not only did the counselors handle the pressure and chaos that came with balancing the limited space we had to work with (which slightly changed everyday), they also thrived in the team-oriented environment and helped to foster a climate of cooperation and fun. We could hardly have been more impressed with their dedication and enthusiasm. Two counselors were assigned to each of the ten teams of campers, who rotated throughout the day between five stations: two content classes about health (which the counselors taught), two physical exercise stations, and an art station. Highlights included a very persuasive anti-smoking lesson, tie dyeing white t-shirts, capture the flag, and rapid-fire team games that ended each day.

A camper shows off his tie dye

Tina, Jillian and the campers attempt a "Circle Sit"

Counselor Dani helps a camper through a posture activity

Team games

The whole thing felt like a well though-out and prepared high wire act: when it was working, it felt amazing, but disaster could always be lurking around the next corner. Jillian and I, with some huge help from fellow PCVs Carolyn and Erin and a young Macedonian woman, Marija, spent the large chunk of the week keeping the ship on course and preventing the seams from bursting. The campers were an absolute joy to be around and we never had difficulty finding a laugh or a smile. All the campers wore their team shirts for the entire week, adding to the atmosphere of comaraderie (and, tangentially, it made keeping track of them SO much easier).

We wrapped up the five-day camp with a closing ceremony. All campers received a certificate and a team-picture and we received a huge sigh of relief and some rest. Including our staff training it had been eight full days of Healthy Kids. Eight satisfying days in which we saw some real growth on the part of our teenage staff while they worked hard to provide these 100 children with some much-needed structured summer fun. While most of their friends continued with the same ol' routine of 60-denar Fantas at the cafe bar, they proved themselves to be great role models for the kids and community leaders in the making.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Jillian and I have a decidedly un-campy thing scheduled for today...season 4 of "Sex and the City." More pictures from camp can be found by clicking on "Our Photos" on the right sidebar.

Healthy Kids 2009

Thank you to all of you who donated through PCPP to make this camp possible. We could not have done it without your generous contributions. I know that the children and counselors thank you as well.

No comments: