August 14, 2009

The Future's In Their Hands

The question was this: Would you accept a job from your cousin that you were woefully unqualified for--even if you had a friend who was qualified--if you had been unemployed for two years? Eyes squinted and heads leaned back as the boys pondered this, one of a half-dozen queries posed to them during an hour-long session on ethical decision making. This one was particularly thorny, for it addresses two major, interrelated issues facing Macedonia today--unemployment and nepotism--and the answers the boys provided covered the spectrum. Responses ranged from "Of course I'd take the job, I need the money," to "No, it just wouldn't be fair to others." This type of honesty prompted excellent discussions, most of which eventually came to the same conclusion. In these situations, including cheating on the soccer field and plagiarism at school, everyone is doing it, they argued. How can we expect to get ahead if we don't?

All week long at the National Leadership Camp the staff challenged the 75 boys to stretch themselves, their thinking, their outlooks on life, through discussions, activities, and teamwork games. The boys, ages 13-18, came from all over Macedonia and were representative of the country's ethnic makeup. In addition to the more serious sessions, which also touched on human rights and democracy, the boys partook in American football, baseball, and art classes.

Many Macedonians we have met are both proud of their country and yet pessimistic about its future. The boys at camp were, to a large degree, reflective of that double-edged sentiment, though at the same time open to the idea that they hold the power to change things. The "everyone else does it" mentality has to end somewhere, we argued with them. Why not you?

The boys gathering on the first day

Much like last year, my favorite moments at the camp came during discussions about Macedonia's future and playing baseball with the boys. After a day of classes, they were always ready to hit the makeshift diamond for a (more or less) real game of baseball. Average pop-ups proved to be hilarious adventures and ground balls took ridiculous hops and turns on the uneven field. Hitters ran to first base holding the bat. Cows walked across the diamond. And, sheesh, my pitching arm was exhausted.

A closing ceremony wrapped up the week, giving all the boys a chance to show off what they'd learned through a series of skits and then a candle-lighting. After the perfunctory lampooning of the staff, the boys got serious and showed us all that the week had been a worthwhile one. Listening to them talk about leadership, friendship and interethnic dialogue, I was reminded yet again that the youth will carry the day in Macedonia.

Resting with a group during a hike

I'm leading a group--which is all tied together--through a team-building game

No comments: