Thursday, July 26, 2012

Haiti: Final Days of Camp Jake

So, the final days of the camp were definitely the best days because the kids were opening up, getting to know us well and we, the counselors, were getting to know their likes and dislikes as well as develop both a routine of activities and continue new fun surprises for them. Wednesday and Thursday included The Lion King film in French which proved to be a big hit, a massive art project of painting the masks that Kelly Andrews had done of each camper, spa time with DeeDee, Shawn, Jake, Tom, Ana, Laura, Casey (and more?), some valuable pool & beach swimming time, super fun face painting (by counselors and also letting the kids paint our faces and arms!), and nail painting time.

The Spa time for our campers is such a neat idea. Aveda donated materials, chapstick, calming & energizing massage oils etc. to the camp. Each camper was brought in for some relaxing music, a foot massage, some massage therapy if needed with Jake, a facial, and a generally relazing and special time for all. Some of them were so relaxed that they cried and some actually fell asleep. It was a treat, something that they will remember for a long time. Each camper was taught that taking care of oneself is important, instructed on how to care for their skin, and given some Aveda lip balm to take home.

In the last couple of days, there were some awesome music times as well. Once, we were so hot from playing around the bar and pool area that we decided to take music down to the beach where we had gone the previous day. So, we lugged instruments, led our blind campers, wheeled chairs down there and set up in a circle. Not five minutes had passed before it started to sprinkle and then.........DELUGE! It POURED rain on us as we scrambled to make sure that each camper was not getting wet.....but they were getting wet as the circular veranda area didn't have that much cover to reach enough beyond the chairs. Laughing, we all got into the very center of the veranda and tried to sing ("Singin' in the Rain"). Then, what I can only assume was a microburst of rain literally fell out of the sky sideways and drenched us even more and began to pick up lounge chairs and toss them about. It made me think "I wonder if this is what a tornado feels like", Ha!
Here is a picture of us in the rain, singing....

I realize I've mostly written about daily camp activities and that's fine, but one thing that I also wanted to write about last week was the campers "coming alive"

One thing that struck me from the very beginning is that this Camp Jake experience is a hallmark of our young campers’ lives. They range in age from 5 to 61. About a third are blind, a third are deaf, and there are many in wheelchairs. There were initial big smiles as they descended from the buses, but it took a day or so to see some of them truly opening up and letting their personalities out. They were so much fun!! They are a vibrant and sparkling group. I have trouble with any country or government that feels anyone with any disability is a “waste of life” or "untouchable". Our campers were AMAZING. I loved to see how they help each other and look out for each other. I also loved seeing them become more open with us during the week, teasing us, or speaking out in group activities. I learned that the average life expectancy in Haiti is 56 so Jimmy, our blind 61-year old accordionist in the group is almost an anomaly. I'm not sure how a school can afford to keep everyone that comes their way, but I'm gratefuI the orphanage is there and didn't turn people like him away. I also found that many of those in Haiti who have any education at all only have up to about 5thgrade. Many of the campers are super smart, but they lack the broad spectrum of educational challenges and opportunities to which they should be exposed. They shut down for many reasons. I imagine that they spend a lot of time to themselves or in small groups and this camp is the social lottery of a lifetime. I know there is a choir at their school and thank goodness because that will help those folks to gain a needed sense of community and interaction. St. Vincent's is lucky because they do have lots of visitors during the year and some folks to help them out. 
I noticed that my three blind girls, Jesula, Rosaline, and Rosana basically sat to themselves at first - until they were engaged by me or another camper or counselor. When they spoke, they spoke softly. It was through music that they usually became outgoing, especially when it reached a certain height and attracted them by including some choral music. They also opened up enough to try swimming even though they were very scared of it. I saw one of them go in the pool by herself on the final full day! Little Oxilus (left) engaged others in sign language, smiled, giggled, and acted like a normal five-year-old boy. This was incredible because the counselors who had seen him before said that he did not engage at all the last time they saw him.
I saw several other kids literally coming alive here when one of the counselors spoke to them or picked them up and swirled them into the air. Little Diyana in her wheelchair STOOD UP at one point during one of the crazy music jam sessions and she was wiggling a little dance. We all went nuts. Tonight, Sonya held little Auguste in her arms and he stood up out of his chair and smiled and just hugged her back super strongly and stroked her face and arms. What is his future? Who knows what this will be? It’s hard knowing that he may go back into his silent self when we leave. Some of the campers have been in the pool and ocean for the very first time, have painted for the first time, and have developed friends for the first time.  Some have had physical therapy that they've needed for ages and have been given tools and ideas to continue on their own. It’s weird to say you see any sort of progress in three days, but I think it is possible. Even some progress with us is heartwarming to see. As a result of their new experiences, I have been changed as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment