Camp Hope 2009: A Fun-Filled Adventure!

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The following post is courtesy of Molly Waite, one of Adult Counselors for Camp Hope 2009: 

Girls from the yellow group practicing for the Camp Hope Talent Show.
Girls from the yellow group practicing for the Camp Hope Talent Show.

Camp Hope 2009: A Fun-Filled Adventure!

When I was invited to participate in Camp Hope, an overnight camp intervention for HIV-positive children ages 10-12, I hesitated, since, as a Peace Corps Volunteer based in a large senior secondary school in Botswana, I didn’t think I would be able to address the needs of younger children. However, I reconsidered when I saw the well-planned camp schedule that represented hours of work done by doctors, nurses, social workers, and a nutritionist, as well as the great program they put together with care. Activities included scheduled times for learning dance, nutrition and cooking, arts and crafts, sports, and life skills topics such as feelings and emotions. Even before coming to Botswana, I was of the belief that camp, like college, was often wasted on the young and felt that older people were able to appreciate the experience more! Needless to say, I became very excited and filled out an application to be an Adult Counselor.

The day before camp started, I attended an orientation conducted by camp organizers at the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence (COE). We learned from the doctors what we should expect medically and which medicines were to be distributed to the campers at breakfast and dinner. Doctors would be present all day and night as well as a social worker from the Botswana-Baylor COE. This was a camp where many needs were anticipated; my orientation booklet was 20 pages long! It included information on the medications as well as a detailed psychosocial overview that included tips on how to build positive relationships with the campers. We also received some background information about our campers and their special needs, be they medical, behavioral or psychosocial in nature.

The first day of camp was filled with anticipation. Campers drifted in all day, beginning at 8:00am until 7:00pm, when the last camper arrived. My “yellow” group consisted of eight girls. Upon arrival, they registered, checked in with the doctors and then had extensive intake interviews before finally going to their dorms and beginning icebreakers. Each team was a different color, as indicated by our bright bandanas. My group contained the youngest campers ranging in age from 9-12 and consisted of young girls from all over Botswana. In total we had 50 campers with 7 or 8 in each group, headed by one or two Adult Counselors or an adult with a Teen Counselor (selected from the Gaborone Teen Leaders). The Teen Counselors were in their upper teens and were trained and experienced in leading group activities and encouraged the younger, and sometimes shy, campers. These young Teen Counselors had lots of energy and enthusiasm and taught us all energizers to warm us up on the chilly mornings.

For our very first activity, we had a dance class taught by Heath Lambert, a professional hip-hop and break-dance teacher. Having taken many dance classes, including several months of hip-hop in the US, I can confidently say that this was one of the best dance classes I have ever attended. It was interactive and involved the campers every step of the way. It taught more steps than I learned in several months back home and included some very difficult break dance moves on the floor. We learned to balance all our weight on one hand and to spin one leg around on the floor while in a sitting position. Other easier steps included a step ball change, the gangster walk and jazz box, all of which the students could execute well with wonderful music. Best of all they could do it and watch themselves in the mirror. They were all stars!!

Later that evening we had a bonfire Botswana-style with Setswana stories, jokes, songs and cheers that each group had created. This was amazing since earlier the campers had been very shy and soft-spoken. Each group’s cheer was rewarded by s’mores, with different flavors of marshmallows roasted over the fire by enthusiastic volunteers and then placed on cookies with Cadbury chocolates. Delicious! That night we had tired campers who fell asleep easily in their dorms, much to the relief of the counselors.

The next day we had a cooking and nutrition class, which involved cooking and decorating cupcakes which could be eaten after class. While the cupcakes baked we learned from a nutritionist about the various food groups and which ones helped build our bodies, protect them or give them energy. The campers then proceeded to use plastic reproductions of many foods to create plates representing a balanced diet. It was here I learned that the HIV virus is very active in the body making it wise for campers to have snacks in mid mornings and mid afternoons in addition to three regular meals. By the end of camp we wished we had weighed the campers on the first day and then again on the last day to see the effect of them devouring all the meals and snacks in great quantities. Furthermore, at meal time, the campers were able to identify the different food groups represented on their plates.

Early the next day we lined up to board a bus to take us on a safari at the Mokolodi Game Reserve. There the campers boarded game viewing vehicles with guides who helped answer all the campers’ questions as they viewed the wild animals. Not to be disappointed, we saw African elephants, whose ears look like a map of Africa, grazing impalas, waddling warthogs, leaf nibbling giraffes, a tired cheetah, highly plumed ostriches, and an awesome assortment of birds.

Later in the day we moved on to arts and crafts where we were all given a stuffed doll to decorate. We had yarn, fabric, buttons, glue, sparkles, beads, and paint. We were all busy cutting, pasting, drawing and decorating our own beautiful dolls. Girls and boys both enjoyed this activity. The products of their creative efforts, called Hope Dolls, were magical and something the campers looked forward to taking home.

That afternoon was filled with sports. We played netball (a version of basketball without a backboard), soccer and tennis. We played till we dropped. The fields and courts were immense, green and well maintained. What a pleasure! My secondary school in Molepolole would have loved to practice on any one of these courts.

In the evening we filed into an AV room clutching a cup of marshmallows and potato chips to see Chicken Run, a delightful clay animation film consisting of talking chickens and other creative characters. The bad guys tried to kill the chickens and the good ones helped them escape – in a flying machine, no less! Although one camper fell asleep on my lap, we all cheered as the chickens literally flew the coop to safety – far away from the chicken pie factory.

Other events on the following days included “feelings and emotions” with Bakani Johnson, an excellent social worker who helped us draw, talk and discuss our feelings in a very safe and comforting environment. We also learned about “character development”, including the qualities of trust, caring, respect and responsibility, with everyone participating in the discussion. And finally we had a choice of board games, twister (using two legs and two arms in amazingly different locations simultaneously), block-building and, my favorite, a huge puzzle of dinosaurs that a group of us worked on together.

One evening we had a talent show. I admit that my expectations were low; my group was young, shy and seemed rather passive. However, there was a DJ playing energetic music and the Teen Counselors cheered the campers on as each group performed either individually or together. My group did a short hip-hop routine complete with a gangster walk and waving yellow scarves in a line. After that we had karaoke by both boys and girls singing their hearts out to a cheering audience. Their gestures were appropriate and sophisticated. The groups did amazing hip-hop routines; each of them incorporated some special move that brought the crowd to their feet time and time again. We shouted, clapped and made long rows of waves over and over again. By the end of the evening we were all dancing and moving to the rhythms. It was awesome!

Other memorable events were the Camp Hope Olympics complete with face painting, burlap bag races and relays with eggs on a spoon, basket ball shooting, and a hula-hoop toss. Teams cheered and the counselors enjoyed it so much they had their own version of the various races!

All these events were captured on video or in still shots which were then made into a PowerPoint photo collage for the parents and campers. They loved seeing themselves and others on the big screen! It was a wonderful, colorful conclusion to a fun-filled week and it made the parting all the harder. We all laughed, learned about ourselves both physically and psychologically, played, danced, sang, ran and ate. Leaving was a drastic separation often leading to tears but filled with the prospect of returning to Camp Hope next year.

In closing I would like to commend the Baylor-Baylor COE and all their partners, including Barclays, UNICEF, Maruapula School, Seabelo’s Express and Mokolodi Game Reserve, on putting together this very successful event that not only helped build the campers’ self-esteem but increased their life skills in a fun and entertaining way. This is said out of admiration. I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana for over a year. In Botswana, as well as at home in the US, I have put together smaller kinds of events and realize the challenges involved in coordinating such activities. While serving in Botswana I have been to many Teen Club events as a volunteer. I have enjoyed the well-crafted activities both as a participant and leader. But more importantly I have always learned new strategies and approaches for my work both inside and outside of the public schools. The Botswana-Baylor COE is having an impact on not only its patients, but is also building capacity throughout Botswana by teaching life skills strategies indirectly to families, friends and all the local and international volunteers. Ed Pettitt and his team of Baylor doctors, nurses, social workers, and supportive staff deserve credit for having gone above and beyond their normal duties to devote their time and expertise to this very worthwhile project.  Bravo!  A job well done!

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