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Scout Camped

July 23, 2013

Ok, it’s overdue that I write about what happened at the scout camp, and I’ve been putting off writing about other things because I knew I had to post about this first, at the very least so the people who helped with donations can see what happened. (I don’t mean “see” literally since I’m in the village right now and don’t have the data connection to upload photos. I will next time I’m in town with the photos.) Here’s my first post on the subject.

I don’t want to complain so I’ll be brief about the unpleasant parts. Suffice to say the grant process was harrowing. That’s why we had to reach out to donors at the last minute to cover transportation costs. Peace Corps South Africa’s administrative official, normally very knowledgeable and helpful, didn’t respond to my frantic emails about how I hadn’t received the grant money when I was supposed to. (He didn’t respond because I was using the wrong email address and emailing some other guy. Whoops!) I went to the grocery store the day before the camp to buy everything, even though I still didn’t have money for it, just clinging to the hope that it would be deposited into my account while I was shopping. And it was! But then I couldn’t pay for the food because the order was too large for my debit card, and I couldn’t withdraw all the money from the bank because I wasn’t carrying my passport…

A whole bunch of snafus later, I arrived at the camp the next day with 14 people from my village representing our Scout Troop. We were the first there, so we made a rough plan for the layout of the camp, and sandwiches for the Troops yet to arrive. When they finally arrived, marching into the camp because the roads leading up to it were not bus friendly, it was something beautiful. By the end of the first day, everyone was there and all the tents were set up before the dark.

Let me explain who exactly attended. There were 6 Troops, consisting of 12 Scouts and a few adult leaders. We had budgeted for 3 adults per troop, but not every Troop was able to come up with that many adults willing to be involved in Scouting. 5 of the 6 Troops were founded by a Peace Corps Volunteer, and the other one was founded by a South African who is so driven and capable that it’s hard to believe he’s South African. He probably wouldn’t take that as a compliment, but there it is. Most of people were Vendas, but one Troop was Tsonga and one was Tswana. That last one had to travel very far to get here. It was great to have so many different South African cultures and languages represented, and it was great that 3 of the 6 PCVs in attendance had been camp counselors so they knew how to encourage to Scouts to make new friends. Even though our plan for meals was to have the Scouts cook, we had one PCV not associated with a Troop who managed the kitchen, and that was an enormous help.

On the full days of camp, we had two sessions that were led by Scouts. The first session, map reading, set the tone for the others: Scouts from the Troop leading the session would break into teams of two or three and go to the other Troops, where they would have an explanation and a hands-on demonstration of a particular skill. So in the morning, Scouts learned how to find north and make a compass from a magnet and needle, and in the evening a different Troop led a session on camping. I was busy running from area to area making sure the whole operation was running smoothly, so I didn’t get to see the sessions as much as I’d have liked, but I was confident my Troop Scouter could manage our Troop in my semi-absence.

Right before bedtime every night, we would have a campfire. After working hard and playing hard all day, a Scout campfire is the perfect way to end it. On any given day, the Troops not responsible for a session acted a skit at the campfire as we all sat in a circle, and the skits were interspersed with songs and chants from our camp counselors. You kind of had to be there. We also made s’mores a couple of times, and those were a big hit.

The next day had sessions on ropes and axes and first aid. Those were all really fun activities. We also had visitors from the Limpopo Scouting headquarters, and they interviewed and invested Scouts who were ready. Whether we were leading or learning in a session or participating in a ceremony or swimming in a river, one thing that made every aspect of the camp enjoyable is that the grounds were so incredibly lovely. That was thanks to the natural beauty of Venda plus the efforts of two groundskeepers who lived on the premises. The last full day of the camp was a long hike, with time budgeted for silent observation of nature. Most of the Scouts hiked up the river, while the older Scouts took a more adventurous climb up a mountain.

The upshot of the camp was that everyone learned valuable skills and made new friends. All the Scouts had a unique opportunity to lead, and the were able to bring what they learned back home. Also important is that everyone had fun. The next issue of the Peace Corps South Africa newsletter had two articles about the camp, both written by faster authors than me.

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