having a camp in Albania sounds more intimidating than it actually is. It’s honestly pretty amazing how easily these kids will get behind you. And if you learn nothing else from this post, know that you can have a successful camp in Albania using nothing more than a few repurposed liter and a half water bottles, pillow cases, cheap yarn, a volleyball, and a willingness to listen to what your campers want.
And even though things don’t always go as planned I haven’t heard one complaint about my camp. granted I’m still learning Shqip but now every time I pass a kid on the street they know my name and say ‘hi’ to me, so I’m taking that as a positive sign.
So what did I do after school was let out and I had a week to get this camp off the ground? Well, I practiced my lesson plans with my tutor, I prepared games, created a rough outline of the topics the camp would cover, and I asked a few bilingual students to help me.
Pretty simple right?
Yes, until you realize that you only know a script, and please god let these kids listen to me and be forgiving of my pronunciation.
The first day of the camp I got up early, hurriedly gathered the various materials I was going to use for the camp and tossed them into my pack. I walked over to the designated site, a grassy field in front of two villas that were the summer home of the notorious past dictator…I’ve been instructed by the locals that we do not use his name in regard to the Villas so I will continue to erase his name from this town by leaving it out unless absolutely necessary. I arrived at the Villas at 9:00. At )9:30 my site-mate and walked over to the field and joined me in waiting. We talked about how many kids we expected, how to handle the translations, went over the script a bit and so on. And then 10:00 rolled around and we waited. And waited. And suddenly a white pick up truck appeared and let out one of our bilingual helpers from the high school. After that we waited a bit longer and decided that at 11:00 we would call it a day and go on with our lives. And at 11:30 that’s what we did.
I wasn’t horribly crushed. It had been a week since the kids had heard about the camp. It was expected that some would forget, and to be fair, the site wasn’t the best choice. Not many kids wander over to the fields on accident. So in the afternoon I went around and found a few kids to invite to the camp. One girl from my building was with her mother at the shop on the ground floor and I took a chance and asked her if she’d like to come. Her mom asked something about permission slips and she looked confused so I figured it was a total loss, made my apologies and left.
The next day however, it was only her that showed up. After taking her along with me to knock on the two doors I knew had kids, I asked her if she knew of some friends she could invite. She quickly led me up the stairs to several other doors. One door led us to discover that friend had gone to Tirana, another sat us down and we had a chat for about 30 minutes, and others told us that a family on this floor or that floor has kid and to go ask them. We went around knocking on doors and calling to kids all over town. I ended up spending the whole morning with her running around Çorovodë inviting all the children we could find. It was a wonderfully ridiculous day. We got juice, candies, and coffee offered to us and met what felt like half the town. It was the sort of day you can only have in Albania.
The third morning I got up, grabbed my backpack filled with water bottles, a volleyball, tape, yarn, and a whistle and walked down to the much more convenient park near my house. There were several kids riding bikes aimlessly about the park and I could see their eyes flit to me and then back to the path. I felt surprisingly nervous. I was so used to things not working out that I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about a day where things were going as planned.
Luckily, one of my students from the 9 year school was there and he was gracious enough to assist me with translating. Funny thing about language learning is that it leaves you when you are nervous. Or at least it does for me. So armed with my translator, a few camp materials, and 12 kids I began my first real day of camp.
The rest of the days were a learning process. All the kids had a great time and they ranged from very young, 5 or so, to 12. Finding games that all the kids could understand and enjoy was a bit of a task. The lessons had to be broken down and simplified but it seemed to work out well. They didn’t mind, and mostly they just loved having some semi-structured time to play with their friends and be exposed to new games. I also got to throw in a few teaching points that I think was concise enough to actually stick.
And I had balloons: The quickest way to become a legend among Albanian youth is balloons, and I had 22. Sadly my phone was using ‘live photo’ by accident so when I figure out how to actually copy the pictures I’ll upload them!
Now even after the camp has finished the kids ask me if we will have another one (we might). Doing this camp has made me feel so much more a part of the community and I am so overjoyed that the children enjoyed it so much. I had an amazing time myself with it. I got to practice my Shqip, see these kids light up as they raced each other or tossed a water balloon at a friend, and I got to see how kind and considerate these kids can be towards one another.
I feel that this camp has also given me a better look into the culture of this unique country. Each day of camp we had a girl with special needs present. I was so worried that the kids would make some small slights against her, or that she would be excluded. Neither of my fears became reality, instead, these kids embraced her, helped her along, and treated her with love and kindness. It was a beautiful sight to see. When the older kids were playing a game too roughly and I made a rule that they were out if they continued to hit the ball so hard the children actually obeyed that rule. This would never happen in the U.S. this small tweak to the rules allowed the younger kids continue to be included in the game. Throughout the whole camp I was struck by how giving and considerate these kids can be(…let’s not forget the suggestion box). Having this camp has done so much to show me what Albanian’s stand for. Their neighbors are their family and they will do everything for them. It’s something that American culture ought to borrow from Albania.