After two summers working at Explo, I know that camp is sometimes like an alternate universe.
Working at an overnight camp in Albania in a different language and cultural climate is another thing altogether.
Despite all the distress and chaos of changing the date of our Bashkia-sponsored camp for children living in poverty in Lezhe several times, we finally actually held the camp from August 5th to 9th(see photos here). It’s something my counterpart and I have been looking forward to and planning all summer, and I think she and I feel that it went over very well, despite a few hiccups.
A few PCV friends from across the country came to help out with the camp while my counterpart Yllka as well as a friend who works for the red cross here in Lezhë made up the Albanian staff. We had a blast with the kids – 46 in all, aged 6-14 – and helped run activities like a climbing wall, crafts, archery, and the pool during the day and team building games (think scavenger hunt and water games) organized by my counterpart in the evening. For most if not all of the kids it was their first camp experience if not their first experience staying outside of their own home.
After a stressful and long first day, we hit a bit of a routine….and by then it seemed like it was pretty much over. But it’s funny how in only 4 days we created a microcosm of the “camp” cycle that I noticed so much at Explo: beginning staff stress and adjustment to the schedule and life with the kids, then the middle period where you enjoy getting to know the kids and joke around and see them develop and open up while you enjoy doing all these activities you haven’t done since you were a kid, and finally the weepy parting period where the kids hang all over you at the end and exhaustion takes over.
Highlights of our camp included: playing popcorn on the trampoline (hilarious way to pass the time…and something I have not done in years and years), getting to see a few kids who were afraid of the pool when they arrived finally get in and swim, being a “leader” for a group of 9 kids – grupi rose! – who were a team for all the activities, speaking shqip all day every day, night swimming after the kids went to bed, watching the kids receive gifts of clothes and shoes from the Red Cross at the end of the camp, and dealing with the chickens that were running around the compound everywhere (and my counterpart thought would be funny to include as an item in a scavenger hunt – so funny! – imagine a group of kids running towards you holding two chickens in each hand!).
A bit of my initial frustration with the British organization that owns the property the camp was held on remains because of how they treated my Albanian counterpart noticeably differently than the American (English speaking) PCVs. But, as I have talked through the camp with Yllka and Jen and the other volunteers involved in the weeks since it took place, the one thing that I’ve really taken away with a bad taste in my mouth is the weight that the desire for recognition places on decision making in this country. In all our dealings with the British organization who owns the property before camp began and even at the beginning of the camp, they made Yllka’s job pretty difficult (see above and my previous post). Then, while the camp was actually happening they were very unavailable (actually NOT PRESENT at all) to help us actually run the programs, which was pretty unprofessional and unsafe in my opinion. Finally, when all these gifts and volunteer help from the Red Cross became such a part of the camp in the vacuum that the British organization created, they actually got upset that the Red Cross was present because it was “their” camp. It’s hard to explain how this happened and I don’t even know all the details, but basically instead of the focus being on the kids, it was definitely on the organizations and how much who was helping the kids and how….
This desire for acclaim and praise is really frustrating to me, but is something that happens ALL THE TIME here in Albania among the Bashkia staff and other quote-on-quote humanitarian organizations. BUT it takes place in ways that are counterproductive and don’t make sense. For example, every little thing that anyone does is on the TV news here, but very few events are advertized before they take place. What??
As a Peace Corps volunteer we are lone rangers in our communities and rarely if ever get recognition for anything we do (which is not the point at all). But because we are volunteers involved in many diverse projects, it is common for us to be caught in the crossfire of organizations vying for recognition. This struggle is something I find frustrating and a bit sad, but is definitely a part of development work everywhere and makes those selfless instances of collaboration and teamwork all the more amazing when they do occur.
Ne duhet të bashkpunojmë!