Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Camp Espoir

Last month we were honored to be invited to Camp Espoir, a yearly camp offered by Peace Corps Togo for HIV-infected or -affected youth. All of the children are HIV-positive, orphans due to HIV/AIDS or somehow significantly affected by the virus.

The organizers, a group of awesome Peace Corps Volunteers, modeled the camp after a their real-life experiences at camp as children, while tying in important lessons for this specific group of kids. During the week they were there, the kids took classes and workshops but perhaps most importantly, these children interacted with peers who were just like them-- kids who had lost their parents or were struggling in one way or another due to repercussions of the virus. This interaction was a rare and priceless experience for them.

Stretching and singing!
   Each morning the kids woke up, had a
   delicious, healthy breakfast and went to play.  
   After a short amount of playtime to get their 
   adrenaline pumping, they gathered in the 
   meeting area where they talked for a few 
   minutes, sang a few songs, introduced guests, 
   announced the morning schedule and then led 
   the children out to the soccer field.

London Bridge -ou- Le Pont de Londres

Once at the soccer field, the games began.  When they originally arrived at camp the kids were divided into groups (and "dorms") based on age and gender. These kids became immediately connected, sharing rooms, stories and ideas. Now on the soccer field they happily played. Each team danced, moving with enthusiasm and celebrating the week, they cheered each other on as they played Simon Says, Flash Freeze (as well as many other camp games that I hadn't thought of in years-- good job guys!), and they embraced each other, coming together for a team cheer to start the day.

Team Dance-off!

London Bridge fell down!
After the games the kids went with their groups to different classes. These classes included life skills, leadership, nutrition and reproductive health, among others. During certain, less imperative, classes kids who needed to talk to counselors were given the opportunity--one that is rarely afforded for children in rural villages.

Several students who had participated in the camp in prior years were paired with a famous Togolese puppet master, Mr. Danaye, who volunteered his time to help the students make puppets and create an informative, uplifting puppet show for their peers. They were incredible!

The puppeteers!

Making Toffee
On second to last day of the camp, the kids had a "market" in which each group sold their "speciality." All week the kids worked hard on a project to sell and were rewarded with "coins" for good, thoughtful and responsible behaviors, with which they would barter, sell and buy other items. The goods included toffees, lemonade, peanut brittle, brooms, neem lotion and popcorn. The market was a good way to teach kids how to make little things that might be useful to contribute to their families economic success and to teach them the importance of saving and budgeting their "money."

On our last morning the kids played a few games with us and sent us off with a sweet song. It was a touching, informative experience and we hope to be a part of it again next year. We are happy and reassured knowing these kids learned some new, helpful things and will be followed by regional NGOs for the next year, providing them with follow-up information and resources, but perhaps, most importantly, these kids had a week-long experience away from community stigma, family stress and the effects of economic hardship, where they could just be what they are: kids.

 If you are interested in more information or ways to help fund this project or others like this, please contact Friends of Togo, a group of current and returned Peace Corps volunteers from Togo.

No comments:

Post a Comment