Still up to the day before training I was a little nervous about how this event would unfold, but all those anxieties were settled after I was able to gain more insight into the overall goal of this project as well as logistics. I had been busy giving the participants from my community charlas (lectures), finding cooks for the week as well as confirming host families for the kids coming from other communities. The training consisted of numerous ice breakers that were theater related. They got us thinking about how others see us as well as how we present ourselves to those around us. There were three sessions that consisted of elements of theater such as directing, how to stage a scene and how to bring it all together. I’m extremely excited about this project, because not only will the kids be learning about the importance of water safety, disease transmission and sexual health, but they will also be learning about the principals of theater. Being involved with theater in high school taught me some important life skills, like public speaking, working as a team and building confidence. I’m also interested in how the participants will react to the concept of theater since they have had no experience with this idea.
I can confidently say that the first day of camp was a success, although a little awkward. One of the facilitators gave me the analogy of camp to popcorn. The first day is like throwing the kernels into the hot oil. The next days are the kernels heating up and the last day is the kernels popping and having delicious goodness to enjoy. I can’t wait for these teenagers to break through their shells and show the world what their made of. Camp has twenty two participants with age ranges from twelve to eighteen. So for the first sessions we did some ice breakers of learning names as well as an introduction to camp, such as their expectations and what we hope to accomplish. We also had a couple sessions on values and identity as well as a jeopardy hour where we asked questions about what they had learned at the previous lectures required for them to take before camp started. At the end they were matched up with their host families, which was also a new concept for them. Even though I could tell they were nervous and afraid to participate in the camp activities my hope is that they will be able to overcome this obstacle and let loose. Keep that shame monster locked away!
Day 2 of camp started off with a breathing exercise. We began with short rapid breaths, which got our hearts moving. Next we took slow, deep breaths that slowed our hearts and relaxed our bodies. This activity instilled mindfulness, which demonstrated that we are in control our of actions even though we cannot control our surroundings. For the next activities we touched more on being an agent of change as well as health promotion. We discussed the different health organizations in Panama and also what they can do in their communities to encourage behavior change. Finally we announced roles in the plays and read the scripts. Following lunch we added movement to the dialogue, otherwise known as blocking. I will admit that the youth from my community had a hard time accomplishing this, but I think that is mostly associated to them being so young (included in my group were three twelve year olds). Our final session promoted building confidence. We gave them a recipe for success; one cup of positive attitude, one cup of honesty, two cups of respect, one cup of responsibility, and a teaspoon of smiles. Mix these ingredients together, let rest and enjoy! We also invited them to come up with their own scenes, or mini skits, that we assigned for homework which we will be hosting tryouts for.
Definitely the most interesting day of camp. Even though the morning started off with a torrential downpour which caused the river to rise and flooded the entire town of Drigari, we still made the most of it. We began with exploring and acting out different human emotions then led into learning an entire choreography of the song Bailando with a Peace Corps twist. Bailando became Lavando, a song about the importance of hand washing. While we were practicing in the community center the water continued to rise and flooded the entire building. Without skipping a beat we moved into a nearby house and I was surprised by everyone’s flexibility. After practicing our dance we then went into further rehearsals for our skits. Due to the flood and fear of our water system breaking, a few of the other facilitators and I set up a rain water catchment system. I was very thankful to have engineers in our group to help with this unexpected project. After we were finished we returned to our rehearsals and I was blown away by how far my kids had progressed on their skit. They had lines memorized as well as choreography and utilization of props down. Without the help of my colleagues I would have never thought they would be capable of this amount of progress in such a short timespan. After lunch we decided to cancel the afternoon sessions, due to the continuation of rain and the safety of the participants. Instead we came up with an alternative plan for the following day’s activities. Since plans throughout the day were constantly changing we figured we were probably somewhere near plan S at this point. We also came up with a backup plan for our backup plan, henceforth labeled plan T. These evolved into Plan Super (rain stops) and Plan Terrible (more flooding). In Peace Corps as well as life in general it’s always a good rule of thumb to be flexible and to be ready to change plans in a moments notice. If Plan Terrible has to be implemented we will have a shortened version of the last day of camp, but if the rain gods favor us we will be implementing Plan Super. The continued rain in the evening canceled the community movie, but we still had our own movie night with my host family. In all I’m glad it gave us all a chance to spend time with them and increase our bonds. I’d also like to point out how upbeat and positive everyone was today, especially our camp leader Amber.
The final day of camp began with more flooding so at 7 o’clock we decided to engage Plan T. All the participants and facilitators met in the school at ten. We had the youth write thank you notes to donors from the States who made this camp possible. We were also able to run through all of our skits a couple more times before we premiered our debut in front of our peers. There were skits ranging from scenes of improper hand washing to the importance of using a condom for all sexual encounters as well as HIV education. Even though our preparation time had been cut down quite significantly I was welcomed with the amount of enthusiasm and creativity the participants were able to put into their skits. A couple of the groups even had their lines memorized! After the performance we all met in the casa communal where we handed out certificates and lanyards designating them as community health promoters. We were also able to preform our rendition of Lavando in front of some of the members of the community. After spirit awards and lunch we decided to have the participants return to their designated communities via boat. After cleanup and a feedback of the facilitators a much needed afternoon of relaxation was bestowed upon us. With all the challenges that we faced during camp, I felt that it made the experience even more memorable. I had an enormous amount of fun throughout the entire process and learned much more about myself, my community and what the motivation and positive attitudes of others can do than I ever thought was possible. I’m extremely grateful for this experience and am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it. I wish all the best for Acting Out Awareness in the future and I hope that I will be able to work with this organization again soon in the near future!