Reflections from Camp CHACA

Camp CHACA (Chavalos a Caballeros, Boys to Gentlemen) took place this year between July 11th and 15th in northern Nicaragua. We had 40 campers, ages 14 -18, 10 Nicaraguan counterparts and 10 Peace Corps Volunteers. All 60 of us came from varying departments and regions of Nicaragua to learn, explore, and create new friendships.

Camp CHACA was created three years ago by the Peace Corp’s Gender and Development Committee. The idea behind the camp is to give young boys around Nicaragua the skills and knowledge necessary to become local change agents for gender related issues. Nicaragua, like most of the world, suffers from extreme gender inequality which has a devastating impact both in the household and in society as a whole. There are very few rules and expectations for men, allowing them to sleep with multiple women or spend all day drunk in the street without any consequences. But society demands much more from women, requiring them to work, clean the house, cook the food, and wait on their husbands and kids hand and foot. Through Camp CHACA we hoped to help young men realize these problems and develop the desire to change them.

Our camp song, which we played every morning to start our day, during meals, and at our closing activity was called “Celebra la Vida” (Celebrate Life) by Axel.

“Piensa libremente,                             Think freely,

Ayuda a la gente,                                Help the people,

y por lo que quieras                            and for what you want

Lucha y se paciente.”                          Fight and be patient.

These were the ideas and the ideals we were trying to impart upon the young men who participated in our camp. We encouraged them to open their minds and think about the camp topics in ways they had previously never done. We asked them to understand the problems faced by women and other marginalized people within their country and urged them to take a stand against the patriarchal system in charge of their oppression. The camp topics were separated into three, 1 ½ hour lectures each day, resulting in 9 lectures in total.

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On the first day of camp we focused on lighter, less intense topics as a means of introducing the campers to the themes and easing them into the camp. We started with Gender, Sex and Sexuality, Self-esteem, and Types of Communication. Before we could expect the campers to comprehend the complexities of sexism we wanted them to have a basic understanding of how to define gender and sex. We then discussed the importance of a positive self-esteem and discussed how we can communicate our needs and feelings in an appropriate, assertive manner.

On the second day, we moved on to Problem Resolution, Violence in Intimate Relationships, and Power and Relationships. Problem Resolution was a similar topic to Types of Communication, we discussed ways to solve our problems without aggression or violence. During the other two presentations, we examined how toxic masculinity leads to domestic abuse and men feeling the need to assert their power within various types of relationships.

On the final day, we focused on the more complicated and emotional topics, which were Paternity, Violence and Masculinity, and Condom Use and Safe Sex. We started the day by discussing the importance of paternity and all the positive benefits that both the child and family as a whole can receive from an active and loving father. We then focused on the different types of violence that exist and analyzed how men use them to maintain power within individual relationships and society as a whole. At the end of the day the campers were taught about the dangers of HIV, how it can be contracted and how to properly use a condom in order to avoid the spread of STI’s.

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As camp counselors, we recognized the difficulty and complexity of these topics, and therefore, did our best to make the camp energetic, fun, and active for the campers while they were not in presentations. Each morning after breakfast we played various lawn games, including: sharks and minnows, sack races and wheelbarrow races.

In the afternoon, once all the presentations were over, we separated into groups to play games or walk to the vista point on the top of the mountain. However, our first attempt to walk to the vista point did not go so well. After about five minutes of walking, it started to down pour (thanks a lot rainy season) and our group separated into two: the more adventurous group that didn’t mind a little rain, and my group, that ran back to the cabins cold, wet, and defeated. But the next day the rain held off and we were all able to make it to the top to be greeted by a fog that hid the entire nature reserve. Despite not having a beautiful view we still managed to spend thirty minutes taking group pictures in an attempt to capture all the fun we were having.

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On our final night together, we held a closing activity in order to celebrate all we learned, all the fun we had, and all the friendships we made. We started by handing out Camp CHACA T-shirts and hearing a short thank you from all the counselors. We then moved onto the group presentations. All eight groups (made up of one Nicaraguan counterpart, one Peace Corps Volunteer and five campers) were given 5 minutes to present on what Camp CHACA meant to them. I loved seeing all the creative ways people expressed their appreciation for the experience. The first group presented as a local news agency asking various campers what they enjoyed about the camp while multiple groups choreographed a song and dance routine changing lyrics of popular songs into lyrics about Camp CHACA. In my group, each one of us wrote a short poem or statement about the camp. It was beautiful to hear what each of them had to say.

Finally, one of my favorite aspects of the camp was getting to know the kids in my cabin. I was lucky enough to only be in charge of a small cabin, meaning I had a double bed, a warm shower and I was only responsible for three campers (which ended up being more work than you would think). The moment my campers and I got to the cabin the smallest camper of the group immediately jumped on the biggest bed in an attempt to claim it as his own. I took time to politely explain to him that I was twice his size and therefore slightly more deserving of the double bed. Although he gave up for the moment and let me have it, that did not keep him from laying on it every time I wasn’t in the room.

This did not prove to be his only comical feature. Each morning various counselors hosted an early morning activity for campers who were awake at 6am. Each night the kids in my cabin insisted I set the alarm for 5:30am so they could be up in time for the activity. Although at night they were so interested in waking up early, each morning at 6:45 it became my job to blast extremely loud pop music and hit the three of them with pillows in order to get them up in time for breakfast.
20228330_989732487457_7651448663051255069_nBut when I wasn’t frustratingly telling my campers to hurry up, we had some great conversations together. One of them was celebrating his 15th birthday and although we bought a cake and let him crowd surf on the other campers, he told me it was his first birthday away from home and that it felt a little strange. I told him that having spent the past year away from home I understood how he felt, but asked him if it was worth it. With the goofy little grin, he almost always has on his face, he happily replied, “Si, por su puesto!” “Yes, of course it is!” 

Camp CHACA is not just four days of fun and games for Nicaraguan youth but it is an important, valuable service that is creating positive change across the country. It provides a safe space for young men to be themselves, express themselves and learn new skills in order to become stronger, smarter men. I hope the Peace Corps is able to continue hosting and growing Camp CHACA into the future so we can slowly but surely make both Nicaragua and the world a better more loving place for all.

 

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-John Soener
Peace Corps Nicaragua ENV 68
Camp CHACA 2017 Counselor 

 

 

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