Published: May 26th 2010May 26th 2010
4 May 2010
We’re all jazzed up about our recent trip to visit Sandy and Justine in central Maewo. The four of us also joined with six volunteers from other islands, a grand total of ten volunteers. It was a good thing there were so many of us as we were helping Sandy and Justine put on a four day Kamp GLOW & BILD for the youth in their area. These camps address issues like leadership, communication, reproductive health, healthy relationships, and domestic violence. For those loyal to this blog, you’ll remember we went to a training on Ambae last August for the same program. Peace Corps Volunteers all over the world are hosting these camps in their countries of service.
Sandy had everything about the camp planned to a tee. Food, beds, classrooms, supplies, cooks, the list could go on… When the rest of us showed up, we divided and conquered and had enough spare energy to enjoy ourselves along the way.
Thursday: Opening day for the camp. Participants arrived at Salua primary school, the hosting location of the camp, in the afternoon to register and deliver their “enrollment fee” of produce, either island cabbage
Sporting our tie-dye attire
or root crops. The food was used to feed the campers and PCVs during the camp. There was a welcoming ceremony where all the volunteers were presented with salu-salus (leis) and listened to welcome speeches by the headmaster of the school, the village chief, and the school council representative. It was clear from the dozens of eyes peeking in the classroom windows that the community was excited and very interested in what this camp was all about.
That evening we had an introductory session with ice breakers to warm everyone up to each other. Setting the tone for the camp, one conducive to trust, question asking, understanding, yet still maintaining an element of structure is important, especially since in less than two days we’d be delving into sensitive topics and asking the participants to play an active role in those sessions. Campers made name tags were given notebooks and pens, and the ground rules for the camp were laid. It was just like a miniature summer camp from my high school days. There were also mostly blank pieces of paper with each camper and PCVs name posted on the wall for everyone to write positive and encouraging graffiti on.
Friday: The first full day of the camp started bright and early. We all slept on the floors of classrooms; girls in one, guys in the other. The girls were excited to get started and were stirring around even before the first bell rang at 5:45 am. We had an hour of morning exercise where the campers could choose between yoga, running, or Frisbee. Then, we had breakfast of bread with peanut butter and tea.
Some of the sessions were co-ed, while some were split by gender. Justine and I led the first session with the female campers on communication and public speaking. We talked with the girls about communication and miscommunication, how gossip can completely change a message (only one round of “telephone,” lining up the girls and whispering a message down the line, needed). We also discussed ways for females and youth to get their voices heard at the community level. Traditionally, it is the older males that dominate discussions and community decisions. We talked about how important it is to have everyone communicate their opinion, especially when the outcome of the decision to be made will affect everyone.
The second session brought the girls
and guys together to talk about decision making and goal setting. Two other PCVs led this session, encouraging the participants to practice thinking about big decisions by considering the positive and negative elements of each possible outcome. Then, there was time for the participants to draw out a five year plan and set some goals to be accomplished in that time period.
After lunch, we had a tie dye session in the afternoon! Campers were instructed to bring white clothes to dye and there was white calico to make bandanas or lava-lavas for those who forgot. The mamas boiled large saucepans full of water over the fire for the dye while the rest of us got to work. The next three hours were spent attempting to sketch out tie dye patterns on the chalk board and then demonstrating how to make that look with the calico on hand. Guys and gals alike really got into the project.
A final afternoon session on leadership split the campers into two groups again. The girls got in small groups and discussed what it meant to be a good leader and thought of some examples. The afternoon sport was a good ol’
game of Capture the Flag. Then, it was time for a dinner and on to the evening activity of weaving friendship bracelets. Again, I was impressed to see both guys and girls really getting into the craft projects. By 10:00, the lights were out and we were ready for a well deserved rest.
Saturday: Morning exercises and breakfast as yesterday. The first session launched right into the heavy topic of reproductive health. A veteran volunteer led the session for the ladies and did a fine job of keeping it light hearted yet relevant. For some of the girls, this may be the first time this information was presented in such a straight forward way. We encouraged the girls to write questions anonymously and put them in our question box for the afternoon.
The second session for the day was on healthy relationships. Justin and I led this one, starting with a small skit about drinking kava (much to the entertainment of the guys in the audience) and resolving a common conflict in this country: night life activities and how that affects the relationships inside the home. We had the group talk about what qualities they would look for
Some female participants "in their element"
in a future mate, how they would know that a person would treat their husband or wife with respect, etc. Then, we modeled a basic conflict resolution process. Instead of just blaming kava or laziness, we encouraged the participants to really look at the “stamba” (literally stump) or root cause of a problem. After that session, I got lots of comments on my “graffiti” page from girls commending how I was able to “tok strong” to my husband about a problem. I hope it encourages them to do the same.
Our lunch was also a session, again split up by gender. We ladies went to a shady spot by the ocean and built a fire to roast bananas and meat (Sandy is a superstar and her fundraisers were successful enough for the camp to purchase a cow!). The female participants were literally in their element, gathering firewood and setting up stones for fire pit, while we PCVs were slower to see what needed to be done. It gave them a boost of confidence and assurance that they could contribute their own knowledge and skills to this camp as well. While we waited for the bananas to roast in their
skins, we went through our question box. The hope was that in this more relaxed, less classroom like setting, the mood would be right for discussion. It was still a bit awkward, though, and we went through the questions quickly, with little to no comments from the campers. After the last question, the mood eventually lightened a bit as we sang and danced for our supper.
Then, the group gathered again for one final activity before heading back to the school. Sandy held one piece of paper that read “Agri” and I held one that read “No Agri.” Then, one of the PCVs would make a statement and have the girls respond by walking to the piece of paper that matched their opinion. Then, the girls would defend their opinion. After getting warmed up with statements like “cats are better than dogs” and “mango is better than pineapple,” the questions got more complicated. Statements like “Men are allowed to hit their wives because they paid for them” and “Only men have control over when they want to have sex” brought up some loaded discussions. It was a different approach towards discussing domestic violence, one that didn’t preach right and
wrong, but instead allowed space for everyone to voice their opinions. It hurt to watch girls agree with statements that belittled their rights on the sole basis of gender and then to leave the discussions open-ended and hanging, but I think the campers were more honest with us in that situation (as compared to, for those who follow this blog, how this topic was addressed in our camp on Ambae). The power of choice is complicated and not easy to teach objectively. Hopefully by sharing ideas and hearing different opinions, the girls understand that they have the power to choose; even if that choice is different than what we PCVs would choose in their position.
Back to the school that afternoon, it was time for afternoon sports: Kamp Olympics! Sandy orchestrated a water balloon toss, island dress relay, tug-of-war and wheelbarrow race all before the sun went down. It was a ball, and an excellent way to unwind and take a break from the heavy topics of the day. After dinner, we congregated in the classroom for our evening activity. Originally, we’d planned to show a video to the group. But, waiting for everything to get set up led
Island dress relay
to a sing-along, which led to a guitar, which progressed with such energy and sincerity that we just stuck with it for the next few hours. We sang church songs, then taught each other a few new songs, then practiced a song for the closing ceremony the next day. Ni-Vanuatu have an almost magical ability to harmonize and within moments of learning a new song, alternative harmonies are fluttering all over the place. It was a special and spontaneous evening.
Sunday: Up early for the third day in a row to exercise and have breakfast. Then we had a short devotion with a priest from the area. The rest of the morning was time to review, ask any lingering questions, and get feedback about the camp. Campers got in small groups to write skits to present to the community at the closing ceremony that evening. The PCVs were scurrying all over the place, photocopying certificates, compiling evaluations, creating a photo slide show, and the like. That last day punctuated just how awesome it was to have ten of us to take care of the all the little errands. Just before lunch, a small session on teamwork was given and
the campers practiced trust falls. The afternoon was spent preparing skits, packing up, and relaxing.
The closing ceremony was the event of the evening for surrounding villages. Everyone was invited to the closing and to watch the skits. In all the rush, none of us had taken the time to find out the content of each skit; something we all realized just as the first one was getting ready to start. I worried a bit that a key topic would be confused or portrayed incorrectly, but the campers did an exceptional job. We were especially proud of the girls groups, all of which did little skits on resolving problems in the home. Although its’ a small step, the fact that they were comfortable with sharing the information with the community in public was immensely gratifying.
The local band played island music for the next few hours and we danced with what felt like everyone in central Maewo. I was fond of two mamas, who were marching around the dance floor, reminding me of an island version of “The Train.” I jumped on their train, but after following them around a bit realized they were just making the rounds,
soon to be stalactites (mites?)
making sure everything was staying ‘G’ rated in the dark corners of the dance area. Gotta love the wisdom of the mamas.
That night the ten of us crammed into Sandy’s two room house. A cozy fit, but at least we were all mutually tired.
The next day, we decided to visit the tourist attraction on central Maewo: “Hol blong Mun” or the moon cave. We had asked some of the campers in the closest village to the cave, Nasawa, to join us. In fact, that wasn’t completely necessary because our mob of ten white people seemed to attract attention and followers wherever we went. By the time we reached the last village, we had a good fifteen followers.
The road ends at the village of Nasawa. After that, we continued south on a foot trail through a coconut plantation, dodging cow patties along the way. Our first detour was to a cave that has notable petro glyphs carved into its’ sides. It is known to the locals as the house of Takaro, the god of Maewo and other islands in the Penama area. Then, we progressed on to yet another cave. Before entering, our groupies had
Our last stop
us pick up flat stones to stack inside the cave. Thinking of stacking stones on Colorado hiking trips, I gathered three and headed into the cave. In fact, we were using the stones to leave a more permanent mark. Stones were stacked on top of pre-existing stalactites (or is it stalagmites?)that seemed to be growing up from the cave’s floor. Over time, our additions would be cemented into the cave’s formation permanently.
Finally, we arrived at the Hol blong Mun. Legend has it that the moon stayed in this cave and the people were hogging its’ beauty for themselves. Takaro was angered by their selfishness and threw the moon into the sky, sharing it with the rest of the world. The cave’s ceiling is a rounded and pockmarked indention that remains from after the moon was flung into the sky. We swam around in the cave, which hangs out over the salt water, snorkeling, playing Frisbee, and jumping off the surrounding ledges. One guy paddled some of us around in his canoe.
After swimming in the cave, we headed back towards a nice clearing by the beach. Here, we built a fire to roast bananas, taro, and reheat laplap and baked taro from last night’s ceremony. After this little meal, the tour continued with a stop on the way back at a small pool. The mood was impeccably joyful as we detoured toward the pool. One of the guys had a locally made ukulele and serenaded us with his nasally chipper voice singing popular island songs. The road to the pool was slick with recent rains. One girl, watching me slowly pick my way up the slope, latched on to my armpit and started hauling me forward. She was much more confident about my balance and ability to keep pace with her than I was, but somehow, dragged or otherwise, I made it.
The pool was deep and had about a twenty foot waterfall pouring into it. There was a rope swing for launching ourselves into the pool from a ledge, or, for the more daring, the local guys demonstrated how you could jump right off the top of the waterfall and into the pool. It was nice to rinse the salt water off in the fresh water pool. The ukulele guy kept the background music going and we all took turns swimming and dancing with the musician on the side.
We started to walk back at dusk, trying to get back to Sandy’s house before the last of the sunlight faded. Sandy’s papa had a gang of young guys grinding kava and ready for us when we got back. After such a long, active day, we were ready for the chance to relax. Then, we all crammed into bed one more night before going our separate ways the next day.