Saturday, July 17, 2010


There are a number of ideas that Peace Corps pounds into our heads right from the get go. One of them is the idea of SUSTAINBILITY in terms of skill transfer and projects. It has been a problem for Peace Corps from its inception. It is all grand and good for the Americans to come into a country with ideas, energy, optimism, idealism, resources and so much more, but it is another thing for our work to continue long after we are gone. There are “Volunteer Monuments” all across the globe…libraries that are unused, computer labs without technicians to maintain them, gyms that are locked and so on. Obviously there are many successful projects and significant skill transfer resulting from volunteer efforts, but it is still a hole into which many of us fall.

With this in mind I did NOT want to do the summer camp I was asked by my school director to organize with my counterpart. The reason being, that a PCV had done such a camp three years ago and it had not been repeated since. Where was the SUSTAINABILITY?  Running a camp also meant finding funding….never a fun thing to do in my minds’ eye. Some people are good at it. Let’s just say it has always been one of those organization jobs I have always avoided carefully. The last road block was a shortage of time. In true Bulgarian fashion we were not asked to start working on this until after Easter break…basically the middle of April.

With no choice but to move forward I decided to try and make it worthwhile. Actually like so many projects it started with a loose framework and flushed out as we went. The first thing to do was understand how the previous camp had been run and why it had not been repeated.  After hearing about it the two key elements that I thought needed changing were the number of kids involved in the camp and a change in staff. Previously PCV were brought in from the neighboring region to engage the kids in games and crafts. As stated by Petya, they camp did not continue because there were no PCVs. I hoped to go from 40 campers to 120 and from PCV running the camp to teachers implementing the activities. (We reached 95 students and 7 teachers worked the camp) We decided a theme would add more meaning to the activites for the week and started under the larger umbrella of “environment” and narrowed it to “litter” a major problem in the mahala.  Internet searches, books etc offered many ideas for games and projects and the camp started taking form. Writing the proposal resulted in defining goals for the students and teachers as well. There were still approval and funding hoops to negotiate (some done by Mike while I was in the US) but at last we got the go ahead and the funding just in time.

Now that the camp is behind me I can say with great pleasure that it exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I never doubted that the children would enjoy it, but I did not anticipate they would enjoy it so much. The satisfaction reaches beyond the children though, to the teachers who implemented the camp as well as other on-lookers including Roma security and custodial staff. Not only were the activities new for the children, but the idea of learning through games and fun was as well. To have the adults recognize the value in this was what energized me. It was seeing kids who struggle everyday in school with behavior because they are learning disabled, fully engaged, having fun and being successful that made all the work worthwhile. It was seeing the teachers work in teams, negotiating the dynamics of leadership and support, offering their own suggestions and having them implemented that reflected signs of change, and it was seeing the kids working in pairs, small groups and larger teams successfully that convinced me they are capable of whatever is expected of them.  The camp was not without flaws and not as successful as we would have liked if measured by the “indicators of success” required by the project funders, but from my point of view it was wildly successful. Will the lessons learned by the students be evident in September? Perhaps, if we reinforce them with a school wide “anti-littering” campaign.  Is it sustainable?  I’m not sure, but it has a better chance than the last camp because it was completed by them, not for them, and with another year to practice the skills learned at this years camp … just might continue beyond my service.




1 comment:

Katie F. said...

So great. :) Have loved seeing you two so much lately!