Camp has always been an amazing world for me. There’s something about the whole venture of uprooting people from their day-to-day existence and placing them together for some shared experience that brings immense joy and hope to my soul. How wonderful, then, for there to have been a summer camp here during what is typically a really difficult time for PCVs – the first few months at site.
We were invited to be counselors for ACCESS Camp a few weeks back. ACCESS is a program sponsored by the US Embassy that offers English classes to students around the country. ACCESS Camp then, is the week that all of these students come together to try something crazy, difficult, and incredibly awesome: to speak only in English for an entire week. As a current learner of a second language, I can attest to the courage this takes, as well as how effective an intensive language week like this can be.
As a counselor for the camp, I had many highlights:
- The outstanding students: these students had to work hard to earn the opportunity to come to the camp. It was evident that they wanted to be there and were willing to put in their best effort. Seeing hundreds of highly motivated, intelligent students was so inspiring.
- Our Oregon group: the students were split up into ten different state groups, and Andrew, Davita, and I were the counselors for Oregon. It was so much fun to teach our students about a state we three know and love so well. Our chants and yelling “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” at the top of our lungs were definitely a highlight as well.
- ACCESS Staff: We’d heard about the ACCESS program, but hadn’t had the chance to meet any staff or Nicaraguan ACCESS teachers yet, so this week was the perfect opportunity to make those connections and begin to build some relationships with these dedicated, incredible people.
- Camp songs: If you know me at all, you know I love singing, and especially singing camp songs. I got the chance to teach a few of my favorites to not only our Oregon state group, but to the whole camp. “Chocolate Cookie” anyone? Or a little “I-zigga-zumba”? And who could forget “Hey Burrito!” (Hey Gallo Pinto!”)?
- Teaching: I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had taught. I left my job as a 6-8th Science and English teacher at the end of the last school year in June. As the school year is different here (beginning in February and running to December), I haven’t had the chance to really teach much in the last 6 months. Team Teaching English to our Oregon group was some of the best teaching I’d been able to do in a long time.
- PCVs: As we’re all placed around the country, it was wonderful to connect to fellow TEFL PCVs during this week. We’re all pretty silly when we get together, but what better way to have a good time?
- And more: No sleep? No big deal! It’s the camp life for me!
What really hit me though, as I reflected on the week once we made it back to sight, was that for the first time I actually felt like a TEFL Volunteer. I felt like a real Peace Corps Volunteer.
It was my best week here in Nica so far. And I’m not the only one who felt that way about the camp:
I only want to say that was a awesome experience I’ll never forget it. – Ulises Samuel Gutierrez Valverde
Access camp for me was an unforgettable experience because i met new people and i felt like in my house. It was awesome.. i felt so sad the last day, i was about to cry because i was leaving and because i wanted more time with my new friends and what could be the most amazing experience in my life was about to finish.. but i just want to come back to the first day and repeat all the week again – Fabio Jose Borda Pereira
Hey guys, i will miss you! I won’t forget all the unforgettable moments we had, I hope we meet soon again!.. SEEYOUINTHEGRADUATION. #WE_ARE_OREGON se siente feliz – Jelvin Chavarria
Oregon: I will never forget them. – Dora Maria Rivera Castillo
Access camp was an outstanding experience, i am really grateful with all of you, and not to speak spanish was very exciting, and to meet people was incredible! and now i feel sure about my english, and i want to keep learning interestings things! – Cinthia Castillo
Access camp was the best experience in my life! I met new friends and i won’t forget you. – Gypsy Castillo Jarquin
I know that the actual road to real impact and change with a job like Peace Corps is slow and long, but it sure was nice to be able to jump on the camp wagon for a week and fill that desire to feel like we’re making a difference. That want on our part is a reality, and to pretend it doesn’t exist does us no good.
Regardless where Andrew and I are in our intrapersonal struggles of being volunteers, the week mattered. The camp mattered. The week made a difference in the lives of close to 400 Nicaraguan high schoolers. They were encouraged, challenged, supported, and successful. We shared something special together. We grew. We used English to communicate! And for a second language learner, the confidence that comes from experiencing successful communication is huge.
No matter what comes of the rest of my service here, I will always be thankful for the week I got to spend with such incredible students, volunteers, and staff.
P.S. – After camp we slept for 14 hours straight! A pretty good sign of an awesome week if you ask me. Andrew then got up and went on a 50K pilgrimage! What a wonderful, crazy adventure our life here in Nicaragua is.