“I love you, Doamnă Caity!” Bright, gleaming eyes looked up, awaiting my response.
“I love you, too.” This week had been one filled with the joys and love of grupa unu — where most were quicker to hold my hand than give full attention to the camp activities.
“I love you, too!” We would go back in forth with this game with other kids jumping in, wanting to share and receive love. Dancing, tickle fights, and hugs were also often included. For one participant in particular, this was generally prefered to our activities. They were still excited to cross the catwalk, a high log stretched between two trees; they cheered as they succeeded in balancing the whale watch — a large platform balanced on two logs; and they enjoyed all of our goofy games and energizers. However, when it came to the discussions, most were uninterested, and would much rather draw pictures in the dirt or try and whisper to me than process what was happening. Not that I expected much discussion from seven year olds. It made me wonder what each of the kids what get from this week at camp.
The camp aims to build teamwork and trust while encouraging participants to push past fears. After each activity we all gather in a circle and talk about the experience. What did we do well? What can we improve? The discussion is a catalyst to processing the experience, while pushing them see and understand different experiences that others may have had. When participants are more interested in hugs and holding hands, the discussion does little of its aim.
My focus during the week moved to loving the kids well. Many came from difficult homes and receiving love from the staff may have been one of the more important aspects of camp for them. Though I wanted them to learn about teamwork and challenge, I hope they especially gained a view of what love should look like.
My next week’s group brought me back to this same questions. The kids were older, and the discussions often brought positive conversation. However, when we would go back to the activities, none of the new ideas replaced what continued to give little results. Again, as we emphasized the importance of teamwork early in the week, they continued to fight and disregard many of their teammates and their ideas. Even though they knew the “right” things to say in our discussion, but they weren’t able to implement it into the activities they were doing.
How much of the discussion were they actually internalizing? If they weren’t able to implement the lessons in the camp, would they be able to do it in the rest of their lives? The disconnect between the discussions and their actions made me wonder how much they were really gaining from the camp. At the very least, I hope we planted the seed, and it will become more apparent with time.
That’s the thing about camp. We only have the participants for a week. All the time, energy, and work we put into camp may produce a myriad of results. Perhaps we’ll see a lot of growth, while other times not much has changed. Even beyond camp we’ll never know if the change is short term or if they’ll continue to grow after camp. For those that seem to change very little during camp, the growth may occur much later. We’ll never really know. I can just do my best while I have them and hope.
The learning doesn’t stop with the kids, I am meant to grow has well. For the last two weeks we haven’t had any kids at camp. I’ve taken a lot of time to access my experiences so far. How have I become a better leader? How do kids respond to my teaching style and where can I improve? How well do I adapt to a culture different from my own? On and on the questions pop into my head. It has been a much slower process than it usually is, but I know there are many areas I know I need to continue to improve, and I aim to work hard on those during my final week of camp.
I was also able to visit Bucureşti and learn more about the country as a whole. We went to an outdoor ethnographic museum filled with houses and buildings moved from their original location to the capital in order to show what life was like in all the different regions of Romania. We also visited the springtime palace of the final communist leader of Romania and learned a lot about their lives during the tour. We also took a tour of an older part of the city and learned many historical facts from churches to Dracula. It all gave me great insight into the country I’ve been staying in. How will I incorporate this into my growth here in Romania? I’m not sure yet. As I continue to process, I’m sure it will help me understand more of the world I live in.