Having only been at my site for a month and change, being asked to have a summer camp felt like a bit of an ask. Peace Corps gives you the impression that, even though having a camp isn’t required for service, you should do one…like you REALLY should do one. ‘We’re going to spend hours of your life in PST talking to you about doing a camp.’ kind of thing… it is STRONGLY encouraged. This being said, most volunteers decide to go ahead and have a camp. Surprising right? I’m not saying these volunteers wouldn’t otherwise have had a camp, I am merely saying that we all feel the pressure to have one, maybe two.. for those of us that are over-achievers or really felt like the camps helped with their language abilities (more on that later). I would also like to state for the record that I am not, in any way, calling myself an overachiever…you can if you want to but that’s not a title I give myself.
For me I didn’t have to ponder the idea for long. It was a week or so into being at my site and my counterpart brought me into a classroom and asked the students to tell me what they would like at their summer camp. I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was having a summer camp, let alone that we were going tot go into this classroom and make such an announcement. I had been mentally preparing myself for the idea but I hadn’t made any hard and fast plans. I was waiting to see what the kids were like, what my Shqip skills would allow, and what resources I could gather before I made such a concrete announcement. My counterpart on the other hand, clearly knew what I would be doing.
Welcome to Peace Corps.
While trying to keep a cool composure, I took the children’s’ suggestions. They all seemed extremely interested in the idea of a camp which was surprising and encouraging to me. This interest seemed to stem from my counterparts’ overwhelming excitement for the idea. She, stood beaming, to the side, quietly noting and smiling at each suggestion. I could only imagine the pride she was feeling; here was this volunteer that SHE had brought to her school, who was going to make her kids summer spectacular. Or so she must have thought. I was silently freaking out. This was not how I usually planned things. And asking kids what they want to do would not have been my first step. I would have liked to have had the dates of the camp hammered down, the location scouted and secured, not to mention a budget created (hahahahahaha). But I wasn’t leading this charge, this was all my counterpart. And even though we were starting from the end and working our way back, I was going to roll with it. What choice did I have really?
So I began to think. Where could or would the camp be held? And what could we do at this camp? Çorovodë is a small town. We don’t have a ton of places to have a camp, and so early into my service I knew only one or two of the possible locations. It’s more difficult than you think to get outside of an American mindset. I kept thinking that I would have access to craft paper, markers, paints, chalk, and any number of commonplace American camp paraphernalia that in Albania are illusive, rare or unexpectedly expensive. Not to mention there’s no Target to run to when you need a few supplies for an activity you found at the last-minute. Another important note to add: supplies for a camp cost money. Money Volunteers don’t have. You know that old cliché ‘think outside the box’ well you kind of actually need that box, cause ‘waste not want not.’
A Mixed Bag
Luckily I have a site-mate from the group before me and he had a few essential supplies that could make the planning of a camp go so much more smoothly. First I set out to make a suggestions box. I found a nice, big cardboard box. and using the paints so graciously given to me by said Site-mate, I lovingly painted the words “suggestions here” on the top, and “Summer camp” on the side with other various cutesy shapes and question marks. It was bright, cheery, and completely out of the ordinary for my school. It was beautiful, and I was super proud of it. Surely the kids would love this, they never get asked what they want in school! right? Riiiiiiiiggght? Well, not 24 hours after I placed this beautifully handcrafted box out for the kids to give me their suggestions someone (most likely a bored school boy) had relocated my suggestion box to a place somewhere far, far away. Never to be seen again.
To my site-mate’s credit he did warn me that this would very likely happen. I, on the other hand, believed I was different……I wasn’t. No one is different when it comes to a few bored kids and a shiny, movable box. No matter how much they like you. Especially when you’ve only been at site for a week.
That incident threw me back into reality. This camp wasn’t going to be nearly as easy as I thought it would be. The kids who showed interest were not guaranteed participants. And even though it felt at times like I would have a ton of support, I might not. It was going to be up to me to make this camp a success.
And yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I had kids who were extremely excited about the camp. I had a whole class of 6th graders who wanted to come up with a great name for the camp, I had them asking if we would make shirts for the camp, and that we should have a certain hat or bandana to be a symbol of the camp. I had kids bring me written lists of some things they would like to do at the camp. I had students find me in the street to ask me when and where the camp would be and if we would be playing games.
It was a mess of contradictions; but this was Albania. This is what I signed up for.