Yuk Wai, since you're not on my Facebook, I'm copying this here just for you!
Our journey began at the totally unseemly hour of 10:30 p.m. I met up with Samantha at the bus station. It was surreal to see this young lady whom I had once brought to another youth camp, now coming alongside to volunteer!
Then Yen Yen and June, the Malaysian youth leaders, came up, and so did the RACTAR girls.
We reached Singapore at 3:45 a.m. The bus fetching us to the camp was lost, so it took a while for it to come. We reached Camp Christine at 5:30 a.m., jolting poor Paul, one of the volunteers, out of his nap.
He took us up to the dorm where the other volunteers were sleeping and told us that volunteers briefing would be at 7:30 a.m.! Goodness! I had a quick shower and we all flopped onto the mattresses. Who knew short naps could be so restful?
Coming out of the dorm I realised what a beautiful area Camp Christine was in.... we bordered the sea and it was picturesque all around with wooden cabins and tents and the stilt houses on the sea.
We met the other volunteers, and I met the volunteers for my group – Thomas, this really kind, gentle guy – and Sze Shiang, a tiny diminutive lady who turned out to b a soldier! She’s also a lovely person, very organized and clear-thinking. Nicholas, a powerfully built all-round sportsman, joined us later.
Mel was our youth leader and she was to be a powerful, loving force in our group as she encouraged the youths and gave tough love to each member.
Soon the buses came and we were busy getting to know all the campers. I think we were ALL nervous! The campers came from different centres and shelters and of course, they were split into groups as soon as they arrived.
The campers were welcomed into camp by our great, and caring MC – Paul! The first thing he organized was... ICE-BREAKERS! And boy, does Paul know some wicked ones! We played "yes (shake your head no!) and no (nod your head yes!)" and got happily confused, scissors/paper/stone caterpillar, arranging yourselves in your group according to age/ birthday/ forgot what...!!!
Then, in our groups, we had to choose a group name... ours was CHAMPIONS! We came up with a group cheer, decorated our group’s banner and decorated our 'affirmation envelopes'. Affirmation envelopes are envelopes which are hung up behind the hall and anyone can drop in notes of affirmation throughout the camp. I noticed a lot of youths throughout the three days checking their envelopes daily!
We had about half an hour for lunch (!!!!) and those of us who had kitchen duty (like our group!) had 5 minutes for lunch (!!!!!!) because we had briefing after that!
After lunch, an authoress who had interviewed and written about youths who had faced different challenges in Singapore came to share about her book and gave one to each youth and volunteer for free.
Jermaine and Paul took turns reading out excerpts from one of the chapters of the book – about a young boy who at 15 years old, was in solitary confinement. I think this hit so hard for the youths.
In the afternoon, we played station games. The groups had to guess the name of a popular song. After completing each station, they would be given a clue to help them figure out the song.
I was manning one of the stations so I can't tell you what each station was like... I know mine was charades and it was hilarious! I learnt a lot! Who knew the ‘I-Love-You’ symbol for the Deaf now means ‘Rock’ to the young people?!
The absolutely funniest was one girl who was trying to sign ‘black’ and her way of doing it was jabbing a finger at a friend who was wearing a black t-shirt and jumping up and down with frustration when nobody could figure out what on earth she was trying to say!
The high point of the day for me was when one of the RACTAR girls came up to me and said, “Gillian, thank you so, so much for giving me the opportunity to come. I enjoy myself so much! Even though I am from Johor, I’ve never had the chance to come to Singapore!”
My heart melted! I told her all the thanks went to Camp Vision who were the ones who raised the funds and sponsored the Malaysians each year to come for their great camp. Luckily Suan was nearby, so I could re-direct the girl’s thanks to where they were truly due!
Jermaine came forward to give us a 'gift'... she signed a beautiful song and took out its essence in her dancing fingers to give the meaning to the youths.... it touched hearts as music alone sometimes cannot.
Later in our groups, each group member took turns to share his/ her goal. There were so many tears as my group shared about their families.... One thing which I learnt; I could really see that the absence of father figures in the lives of these youths cause major breakdowns in their homes.
At night, we did this activity in groups of four - one person will step up and mention his/ her dream, the things people say that discourage them, and the things they would like to hear that will encourage them. Two people will act as 'blockers'. The remaining one will be a supporter.
The blockers stand in front of the dreamer shoulder to shoulder. The dreamer will try to push through the middle of these blockers, and the blockers will try to 'block' him/ her whilst shouting all the negative words that the dreamer mentioned discourages them. They represent the things stopping the youths from reaching their dreams. The supporter cannot touch the dreamer but will shout all the positive words the dreamer wants to hear.
I was advised not to take part in this activity because of my asthma. Just watching the demo, I realised how seriously this activity was taken... sheer brute force was used by the dreamer and the blockers used all their strength to block.
The volunteer in charge of this activity was very tough on the youths and would not let them get away with anything less than 100%... the dreamers had to go back again and again to try to push through and there were many tears because the blockers gave their all too and did not simply let the dreamers through.
I could see how much the blockers loved their friends; to be willing to put up with so many bruises as the dreamers slammed into them again and again, just to drive home this powerful message for the dreamers.
Some of the dreamers gave up, it was so tough. They got to see for themselves how easily they give up when things get tough in their lives and learnt they had to push through again and again if they wanted to achieve their dreams.
What was scary was when our youth leader fainted! Mel had not enuff sleep. I was so afraid something was seriously wrong, but she was fine. Everyone was sweating loads by the end.
When we debriefed, the youths in my group mostly agreed that it was not the blockages that bothered them but the negative words that were shouted at them that made them want to give up.
After that, the youths were given blocks of wood. On one side, they painted/ drew their dreams. On the other side, they wrote the negative words they heard every day.
The dreams were different, but many just wanted a simple dream - to go to college and university. One of the youths' in my group wrote such negative words like "Study for what, waste time" "Quit school!" "Go school do nothing" at the back of her block. Such were the negative words she was used to hearing.
I noticed some of the youths were asleep at the side of the hall as the night wore on... it was a truly a long, fun-filled and meaningful day!
When I got back to the dorm after volunteers de-briefing, the (single) bathroom had a long queue in front of it! I was so exhausted from a sleepless night that I ko’ed for an hour or so, waking up past midnight to take my shower.
I thought the youths would sleep till late in the morning (or as late as allowed) but no... at 5:00 a.m.(!!!!) I heard squirrelly shuffling sounds as the girls started making their way to the lone bathroom.
Oh me oh my, my bunk was nearest to the bathroom! The volunteer next to me, Barbara, whispered repeated reminders to the girls to, “Keep the noise down!”
Ah well, no point sleeping then! So....
The second day’s activities were rock climbing, station games, kayaking... the youths, especially, I know, RACTAR girls, absolutely loved it!
I was busy helping some of the volunteers create the Spider Web. Boy, was it fun! We pulled string here and pulled string there and examined it again and pulled some more... It began to look impossible, as the teams had to go through the web with linked hands!
My station was helium pole where the groups had to bring down a hoop with all their fingers touching it. It taught them that it takes one leader to give directions for successful completion.
The teams also did trust fall from really high... three chairs stacked on top of a table high! I didn't get to see much of my group but I was glad to have the chance to watch them do trust fall as the station was near mine.
And my group did drop Thomas on the ground the first round.... but really proud of Thomas, he went a second round! I saw him wiping away tears after that...
Ooh... and most exciting... at the rock climbing wall, one of the girls in my team – Jocelyn - got almost all the way to the top of a very, very high wall! She's tiny and very quiet, but she is very determined. Jocelyn was one of my heroes during camp!
I was too late to join my team for kayaking, so I sat at the shore and watched them stand on their kayaks (very successfully, I might add!) and do formations before swinging back to shore. And of course, very near shore... two kayaks capsiized! Hmm... I think that was done on purpose, eh, Effa? ;>
Nick from our group was the PIC for kayaking and he was SUNBURNT red for the rest of camp! *lols*
I did get to try out my own spider web with my team though, and one of the girls called Munirah, lead our group. She was very good and we got through very fast by the easy method of lying on our backs and slipping underneath the whole web! The funniest bit was when little Fahmy had to suck in his round tummy as absolutely far as it could go in order to slip under the very last rope. When he made it, we screamed!!!!
The campfire task given to us was to put on a skit using ‘snow white’ ‘shrek’ ‘durian’... you gotta love the zany humour of our camp leaders! But my group soon realised, we didn’t have a problem with finding good characters for those roles! Tiny beautiful Suriati became Snow White, tubby little Fahmy became Shrek, Thomas cheerfully assumed the role of Durian, and Effa made a wonderfully hilarious Princess Fiona!
Suan lighted the campfire with a blazing torch and declared the Campfire open! Unfortunately the energy levels after a full day of activities was pretty low, even for campers! Everyone was zapped out on their chairs!
At the end of campfire, was a beautiful poignant moment when the camp committee linked arms and went round to receive the thanks of the campers whilst the campers sang “I’ll stand by you” ... oohz... tissue moment!
After the campfire, we sat in our groups again, and lit a candle. Each group member got to hold the candle in turn, and everyone in the group would affirm the member by telling them thank you and all the positive things they'd seen in the person in the two days. It was a solemn, meaningful time ... and I was so touched to see each group member being affirmed especially by the leaders.
What I remember best about MY turn was being told by Munirah, “You’re so tiny!” I was like, HUH?! And Mel pointed to Suriati and said, “If Gillian is tiny, then what about Suriati?” and Mun was like, “Suriati’s SMALL, but Gillian is TINY!”
Go figure! I must be at least four times the size of little Suriati!
The campers had free reign on bed-time, so you can imagine.... bedtime? WHAT bedtime?!
And all the committee and camp leaders were busy writing the last few notes to stuff into the affirmation envelopes! Lots of swollen eyes as they busily, and faithfully, scribbled away just to make sure each camper had that extra note of affirmation to build upon. Awww....
The last day was more frantic as we packed up and cleaned up.
Then the final activity of camp... each person took their blocks of wood with their goals on one side and negative words on the other and placed them on top of two piles of cement blocks with the negative words facing up.
One by one the campers used their fists to smash the blocks of wood (and the destructive words on them) in two! (take note, the blocks of wood are at least ONE INCH THICK!!!)
Watching my group do this activity was such a powerful moment as we supported them as they tried and tried and tried yet again when they couldn’t do it. Some members did it immediately and were ecstatic. But it was those who kept trying, including our group’s youth leader, that just caught my heart with their amazing courage and perseverance.
I didn't get to smash my board, though, as I was quite adamant that I did not want any of my group members to be the last... I know it feels awful to be last and have everyone gone on to the next activity and you're the only one still stuck.
Sze Shiang gamely joined me to the last station still set up to smash our woods together. Our powerful little soldier took just one hefty blow and the board split right open! But just as it was my turn... Paul interrupted us as one more youth needed to have a last try.
Whilst waiting for that last youth to smash her plank of wood, I was talking to Serene, who is one of the sweetest volunteers in the camp. Just asking and sharing, we learnt more about each other and... the thing that I feared the most would happen at camp, did happen.... I cried! ;> *lols*
Throughout camp I avoided every breakdown moment as I was so afraid I WOULD cry... it was such a powerful, personal-development camp! Thanks Serene. Agape!
By the time we finished drying our tears... the last station for smashing the boards had been dismantled! Oh well... I packed my board for the next Camp Vision! ;>
When it came time for my Malaysian youths to go back - we had to go back early so they will not miss the bus home - the Malayisan girls cried SO MUCH! Floods! It took forever for us to say goodbye and leave. Camp Vision had a special completion of camp certificate presentation for them and gave them their affirmation envelopes stuffed with notes to take back.
Suan followed us to get their bags... and the girls were still crying. She followed us to wait for the bus... and the girls were still crying. Thank goodness she was there, as Suan gently talked to the one girl in particular who had told me thank you on the first day and who was particularly inconsolable!
We got on the bus, the girls still in tears and missed the last part of camp. And ko’ed right after immigration!
But what the RACTAR girls had to say was, "It was the best camp I've ever attended." "I've never attended a camp like this where I learnt something from EVERY activity." "I got to do activities I've never had the chance to do in any other camp." "I learnt to trust myself and to trust my friends... before this, I couldn't trust anyone." “I believe in myself; I can do my dream.”
Just to hear their feedback brought the happiest tears to my eyes. To see that joy, that new-found trust and faith in themselves and others, to see the growing confidence and purpose... nothing in the world beats that. It made the whole journey worthwhile.
Thank you so much, Camp Vision for bringing the youths of Malaysia to join you guys every year. Agape... Love you guys always!