Saturday, August 18, 2007

Camp HEAL, and summer ending

Hello again! Well, I’m done with camp and traveling, and summer is winding down. Since school ended I haven’t spent more than two weeks at a time at home in my apartment, and now I have about two weeks until school begins again. And somewhere around October 1st (my one-year mark), time is really supposed to start flying . . .

Hopefully I’ll get back into the swing of lesson-planning by then – a few weeks ago, I was so out of steam that I decided to show my big city English club an episode of “MASH” instead of actually planning something. I made chocolate chip cookies for them, just in case there were any hard feelings . . . but they seemed to like the show a lot! One problem with showing movies and TV shows to non-native speakers is the number of idioms – but with MASH, we had medical jargon and various made-up phrases on top of everything. It’s one thing to explain the phrase “10 bucks a head” for throwing a party, but when Hawkeye says things like “Let’s cut the gristle and get right to the bone,” it’s more difficult . . .

The day after my club, I met three students and got on a train to go to an HIV/AIDS education camp – Camp HEAL (Human trafficking, Education, AIDS, Leadership). 16 hours later, we arrived in Donetsk oblast in the east of the country, where many of the campers from central and western Ukraine had never been. I had only taught one of my three girls before – one of them went to the technical school, and another is my coordinator’s daughter who spent the year in Mississippi – but they still trusted me to guide them through an unfamiliar oblast. When we arrived at the sanitarium, I discovered that I knew one of the other counselors – Gayle! We apparently reacted the same way when we saw each other’s names on the list: “----’s here?!” Gayle was my cousin’s roommate in college, so even though this was the first time we’d met up since she arrived, as a part of Group 32, we had plenty of gossip to share.

Once we got the kids settled, we took them out to the gazebo and introduced ourselves. Their first impression of me was as the crazy counselor trying to explain a game called “Trainwreck” (people know this game by different names . . . it’s the one where you stand in a circle, and one person in the middle yells something like “Everyone who has a sister,” or “Everyone wearing blue,” and those people run around to find new places in the circle. If you can’t think of anything, or just want mass chaos, you yell “Trainwreck!” and everyone runs). I was a group leader for Group II, and we named ourselves “Team Awesome,” and adopted the slogan “Nothing is impossible.” This took a ridiculously long time to decide on. We also had to abandon two separate attempts at “The Human Knot” . . . but despite this, Team Awesome was wonderful, and did a great job . . .

The first full day was devoted to lessons on Healthy Living, Peer Pressure and Self Esteem, and then several games that involved figuring out how to get each team-member through a space in a web of robes, or a hula hoop, one by one (thankfully I didn’t have to try to fit through the rope web, but I was hoisted up and sent through the hoop). This was in keeping with the pattern we developed of: serious topic – silly game – serious movie – capture the flag, etc. It worked very well! I was impressed at how students kept their cool and behaved maturely during the classes on difficult subjects, which would become increasingly important as the week went on. We ended the day with tie-dying, which I think was my first attempt in about ten years (ay), and which the kids really enjoyed. That night, I celebrated not having disco duty by sitting in the Volunteer “office” and doing dramatic readings from the “Cosmo Girl” and “Seventeen” magazines I found there. (The disco was sponsored by the sanitarium every night – blasting techno music and strobe lights, fairly typical.) I soon had a little audience of Volunteers gathered around me, as I told of the girl whose parents convinced her to get a nose job, and of the tattoo that went horribly, horribly wrong (as most tattoos obtained on some guy’s back porch tend to, I would imagine). So, story-time became a fun theme for my week, and a nice break for us . . .

The next day, one of the Volunteers had an unexpected errand, so I took over his lesson on Human Trafficking. First, the kids watched a movie created by MTV and narrated by Angelina Jolie (she is just everywhere) about various women from Eastern Europe who had thought they were going to work in legit jobs in Western Europe, but had been trafficked and sold into the sex industry, etc. I’ve since watched the movie in English (we used the Ukrainian dubbing), and it’s very good, way to go MTV (there’s another with Gavin Rossdale). So, the kids in my lesson learned the various precautions to take before going abroad: never give away your documents, sign a contract in a foreign language, etc., and what hotline to call with questions about potential jobs. I used the example of if I were to go to China without speaking Chinese or understanding the Chinese documents I was signing . . . overall, it went well. The next day was when we started teaching about HIV/AIDS, and I taught one of the “Transmission and Prevention” lessons; which, yes, involved putting condoms onto cucumbers. We all survived, and I don’t think the kids were too scarred, though they were very surprised when I started passing out the cucumbers and the reality of the next task began to dawn on them.

That afternoon, we watched “A Closer Walk” – a movie narrated by Will Smith and Glenn Close about AIDS; specifically the epidemics in India, Ukraine and parts of Africa. It’s a very good movie, though obviously very intense. It was my first time seeing it, although I had heard a lot about it, and I recommend it to anyone who can get their hands on it. It focuses on the spread of HIV in drug-users in Ukraine, though since the movie was made, the infection statistics here have shifted to about 50% drug-users, and 50% other.

The next day, we watched a movie called “Svetlana’s Life,” which was really effective in that it was short, in Russian, and focused on Ukraine. It’s a silent movie, which alternates photos and narration of a Ukrainian girl’s life with information on the history of AIDS and how it reached Ukraine. The lively background music cuts off at the point when Svetlana learns she’s been infected, but as she discovers support groups and becomes an activist, it gets louder again.

That night we had a campfire with s’mores!! That was very exciting, and the kids enjoyed trying marshmellows, which, tragically, have yet to be introduced to this country. We led the campers in singing “Lean On Me,” and it was all very cute. The last day we got together to plan projects for our communities this fall, which is what I will be spending most of this next week trying to lay the groundwork for, before two of my girls head off to study English at university (future interpreters!). We decided to try to do four seminars, one per school in Bratslav: two on human trafficking and two on HIV/AIDS. I’m really grateful for this camp – because it forced me to think about and plan a project that I otherwise might have been too intimidated to try. It also gives me the support of three students who know a lot more about our community than I do, so overall it’s a really great way to go about a community project. That said, it is still intimidating – in the shilling I’ve done for the seminars thus far, I’ve felt like a carpetbagger politician asking for votes from people who don’t know me that well. But we’ll see!

The last night we did an activity – first just the counselors, and then in our groups – where you toss a ball of yarn from person to person giving compliments, and as each person wraps the yarn around their wrist you make a big web – has anyone ever heard of that game? Anyway, it was very cute, nice to do with us Volunteers and then with our campers. You’re supposed to keep the yarn tied on your wrist until it falls off. Overall, I think the camp went really well, and it was a great way to end the summer. It was good to meet the Group 29ers before they leave this fall (!), especially the amazing organizers, and fun to get to know the new wave, Group 32. I feel like we in Group 31 are sophomores . . . but soon to be juniors! Strange.

In closing, thanks to Archer and Mom and Dad for the mail and package! And to Liz M. for the CD! Hope you’re all doing well . . . . keep in touch!

Love, Virginia

6 Comments:

At August 21, 2007 9:52 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

haha i luv it! dramatic readings!

I miss you! I want to come to DC to see you when you are home but I think I can only come the 1st weekend you are home because the 2nd weekend I am apparently teaching a class (on jewelry making...) Anyway, we'll talk later about it :-)

 
At August 24, 2007 9:03 AM, Blogger Louisa said...

I'm so jealous!! I can't believe you taught a class in which students put condoms on cucumbers before me!!!!! That sounds like my kind of camp :) Miss you, love you!

Louisa :)

 
At August 25, 2007 5:08 PM, Blogger Virginia said...

Hmm, maybe third attempt to post this will be charm:

Gigi: Yes, I remembered our infamous dramatic reading . . . but this was a healthy living camp, so no wine and cheese, unfortunately. Its absence was felt.

Lou: See, this is why you wanted to join the PC! It's never too late . . .

 
At August 26, 2007 5:21 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

Haha thats too bad! We will just have to fix that when you come home in Oct! The condoms on cucumbers reminds me of another moment that also involved a lot of wine and liquer....

 
At August 31, 2007 7:56 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Ok, Gigi, lay off the sauce, you're freaking my readers out with TMI about your personal life.

 
At September 04, 2007 2:52 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

Haha whatever you know what I was referencing :-P And your readers must have very dirty minds!
As I recall we bought 3 cucumbers for THAT certain party and a month or so later we found out that target had actually charged me for 33 cucumbers...really who buys that many?

 

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