Going to camp helped form me into the person I am today. I don’t believe I would have even applied for the Peace Corps if it weren’t for the experience of growing up at camp. So, when an opportunity arose to start a camp in my little site, I could not pass it up.
A group called The Nicaragua Project from the states had contacted me and together we brainstormed ideas about possible projects we could do. They had already raised hundreds of pounds of sports equipment donations and were eager to bring them down to share with my community. Easily, we decided that a sports camp would be the best idea. However, a sports camp in itself would mean a larger appeal from young boys and we decided it would be best to have the camp be all-boys with target goals in gender equality.
At the decision I had a bit of anxiety; nearly all of my camp experience had been working with girls! I have girls’ empowerment activities and songs engrained in me from my all girls’ overnight camp, but this would need to look a little different. “How could I continue to strive for the same goal but work with the other side of the equation?” “What would need to change?” “Would boys in Villanueva want to come to camp?” “As a young woman can I even be a role model for young boys in Nicaragua?” I had so many questions running through my mind. Therefore, working with young boys on gender equality was going to be brand new for me and I needed all the support I could get!
As a camper, I learned that I could achieve anything I put my heart to. Camp presented me with many opportunities that that I would have never had the opportunity to do in my hometown. For example, I took a huge interest in our sailing program but I didn’t come from a family of navigation nor did my town have more than a man made pond! Additionally, I had countless role models to follow as a young girl at camp.
There were counselors at my camp from all corners the planet and each presented different and unique experiences to open my eyes to the vast world around me. I attribute my inner drive and future goals to these incredible role models. Therefore, I wanted to try and give this opportunity to the boys here in Villanueva. Countless times I’ve seen a lack in opportunity for the boys to participate in sporting events without means to pay or even in the schools because of non-existent funding to buy equipment. This experience would offer a lot and I wanted to have all of the best men and women I could find to participate as counselors.
Luckily, I just received a site mate in November who helped me recruit! We got support from 4 local gym teachers (who interestingly were also the school English teachers) to participate and in exchange for their work they would receive equipment donations for their schools. In total, we had 15 staff members with the guys that also came down with the Nicaragua Project.
Two other volunteers in the Chinandega department showed interest in helping and we were more than excited to have them. With hard work from all sides, we were able to start camp on January 6th. We had about 50 boys show up to camp that day! Kendra, another health volunteer, gave a charla (workshop) about self-esteem and individuality to start working with these boys on the route to understanding themselves and gender equality. Chelsea, a volunteer from Chinandega, and Andrew, my site mate here in Villanueva, gave an English charla to teach the boys phrases to use on the field during games but more importantly it taught them about sportsmanship and how to communicate with their peers.
The second day, we had 61 boys show up to camp and we worked with them on assertive communication and more interactions in English. It was exciting to see that the campers were just as excited about being at camp as we were and were incredibly participatory in educational time.
The final day, we had a record number of 67 boys come to camp! I gave a charla to the group about the difference between gender and sex and it was so interesting to see where the group had begun in their thinking when we started the charla versus where they had come after the activities presented for the theme. While we only had an hour to discuss every charla, it will be exciting to follow up on these topics throughout the school year.
By the end of camp, we got these boys to start thinking outside the societal pressures they have telling them “what being a man means” and start using their own skills and talents to create their own definition. Now, I’ll be able to see these boys throughout Villanueva, strutting around in their team jerseys, and have the ability to work with most of them in the schools to follow up with this work. Additionally, the boys are already asking me when the next camp will be so they can prepare their excitement; clearly there was an impression made and it seems to have been a good one! In total, this camp experience was priceless for me and took me out of my “all girls world” comfort zone. Moving forward, I want to continue gender work with the male side of the gender equation and am incredibly excited for our all boys GAD camp, Camp CHACA, coming up in a few months. It is funny how the work we do in Peace Corps can completely take us away from our comfort and bring us to a place of even better understanding, pushing us in a whole new direction we never thought we’d be in. I’m very thankful for that and have already started my paper chain to count down the days until the next “Campamento Deportivo de Los Chavalos de Villanueva.”
– Justine, HE 65