Thursday, September 6, 2012

"i was here [at CAMP GLOW]"

ill be honest. as i prepared for camp GLOW, i had a few reservations, some doubts. with the overarching one year NAMiversary becoming ever apparent, it became clear that the peace corps' 2 year commitment was essential. in order to truly build capacity, to form connections, integrate in the community, and achieve goals--well, 2 years seems to be the bare minimum. and yet, at the same time, we prepared for a one week camp for the brightest boys and girls from all over Namibia, those showing enormous leadership potential, those who will surely constitute the future leaders of the country. but one week? really? hasn't peace corps taught me that change cant be implemented in a few months, let alone a WEEK? so i was a bit disillusioned. but then camp started and those disillusions dissolved. 

i arrived at eros primary school, the site of camp glow 2012, but unfortunately i could not take in the playground (which i hadn't seen one since my time in the states) nor the scenery because 1) it was 3am and 2) i was literally falling asleep as i strolled my things into an empty hostel room where i plopped myself on top of a bed frame (sans mattress) and passed out till the morning when i heard 40 screaming boys and decided it was time to get up. 

i woke up, still a bit delirious, but as a tested teacher knew how to dust off those bits of delirium and replenish myself with some enthusiasm cause that first day was run by me and lindsay (the best co-leader everrr). 

i looked around the hall of 88 learners plucked from each region of the country knowing barely more than one other face and, despite the evident anxiety pouring through their nervous selves, the excitement at such an opportunity was apparent. and we started with a discussion of stereotypes, get it all out there candidly. one purpose of the camp was to break through those invisible walls and boundaries that keep and tear people apart. and thats exactly what we did. we constructed a wall based on stereotypes and throughout the week as the learners made friends of different tribes, ages, economic backgrounds, and genders the walls slowly crumbled until the final culmination when we allowed the kids to literally tear the wall down. (reagan anyone?) in namibia, a nation ridden with socioeconomic disparity, gender inequality, and dangerous tribalism, such an activity is fundamental to any leadership camp. 

mo and I were designated as the camp CARE BEARS. in sharp contrast to the king and queen of smackdown (though mad props to jeannine), our aim was to keep those kids smiling. easy, i thought. but then one afternoon, mo and i were patrolling the school grounds during break time and saw a crying girl approaching us (well, she can certainly spot a care bear). or so we thought. we soon realized she was attempting to make a break for it. again, easy she was a young girl, how hard could it be to contain her. HARD. after an hour of chasing her around the field and pulling her through barbed wire and fence holes, we convinced her (despite her crippling screams) to 1) relax a bit and 2) that were here for her. once we discovered the problem, we had the boys who were teasing her apologize. and all was cool from there. well, kinda. 

one day we trapezed across windhoek, the first time for many of these learners. first stop: PARLIAMENT. when we say future leaders, we weren't kidding. and the kids did not disappoint. as we toured the parliament, we sat in the seats of their  elected representatives and the learners asked critical and provacative questions that even made this GW alum smile. their critical views of their government were on sharp display, a fundamental ingredient for a blooming democracy. 

of course it was camp, so despite all the "learning and leadership development" that took place, we also had FUN. following one discussion on relationships and love and gender "roles" in Namibia, i noticed that some of the girls felt a bit unsettled. while many of the learners displayed progressive views on gender, some still stuck to traditional views that often objectify/subjugate women to an unequal status (such as getting married to a woman is like owning a car, thus you can "drive it whenever you want) [plug for sex documentary…more info to come] but what makes these female learners leaders is their passion and conviction to argue back and once the moment boiled, i took some of the girls outside for a game of frisbee, and then we discussed dating and gender and they had the ability to chill and unload some frustrations. while its important for girls to have female role models who personify gender equality and show them examples of success, its equally important to me that these girls have a male role model who challenges male dominated stereotypes. as i alluded to when we tore down stereotypes, it was also to tear those gender boundaries. yes, sex puts biological limits on ourselves but gender is socially constructed and thus can change, and more importantly, improve.

as for some more fun, we had a dance party after a grueling afternoon of crocodile crossing and ultimate frisbee (which i obviously showed no mercy to our younger learners) and taught the kids the CUPID SHUFFLE (some necessary cultural exchange) then on the last day of camp we had a talent show and one of the most brilliant older girls at the camp approached me and laine and requested to sing with us. adele. someone like you. uhhh its as if she had known us for the past year. and so we did an interpretive dance and sing-a-long to our favorite balled. 

and then we heard these gentle words "i was here" sung by one boy, sylvester. one thing that needs emphasis is this: namibian learners are not afraid to sing and dance in public, in front of their peers. (take for example a month ago when one of my learners approached me and said "sir, its my birthday!" so i was like, "ok go ahead and sing your favorite song to the class" i said it with a smirk with my american mindset paramount cause clearly a kid would never agree to that. but she did. without an ounce of shame) 

ok back to camp GLOW. this boy, age 13, stood in front of us all and belted the beyonce song with a smile. and its message dramatically resonated with each of us, the peace corps volunteers, the namibian facilitators, and especially the learners. julie hyman rocked this camp to an insane level and i will forever appreciate her. but the camp was what it was because of the kids.  and the lasting impressions of what they learned about their futures, the inspiration they garnered and instilled, the love they developed and demonstrated, the moments they realized they are special…all these moments confirmed that they were there or as beyond would say "I WAS HERE" one line especially evoked chilling emotion "the hearts i have touched will be the proof that i leave that i made a difference and this world will see that i was here."

syd, if you're reading i may or may not have been referring to this song all week. albeit indirectly. 

peace and love america. and barack, just in case you're also reading, own it tonight just like your wife did.

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