This past weekend I had the opportunity to help facilitate Peace Corps Nicaragua's first cross-sectoral youth leadership camp. The event saw nearly a hundred youth from all corners of the country converge on a small retreat center in the mountains of Jinotega and spend three days attending educational sessions, playing sports, and getting to know a new group of friends they may have otherwise never met. Other than a few transportation headaches (though no more than can be expected getting 100 kids from around Nicaragua to and from a camp in the middle of the mountains), things went remarkably smoothly. A wonderful job was done by the camp staff and by the Volunteers who served as counselors and session facilitators (giving sessions on such topics as leadership, non-violent communication, diversity and stereotypes, nutrition, sexual health, self-esteem and positive attitude, behavioral change, creativity, community banking, job preparation, and time/money management). The kids were also wonderful— participative, respectful, friendly and as well behaved as you can expect a group of a hundred teenagers to be. A spontaneous walk-off did erupt between the two boys dorms about an hour after they were supposed to be asleep... but we all know how easily those things pop up.
I really hope the kids absorbed some of the information we threw at them during the retreat. Well, I should rephrase that. It would make me really happy if the kids absorbed some of the information we threw at them during the retreat. Truthfully, however, the sessions themselves were probably not the best opportunity we offered them. Many of the attendees had never been more than a few hours from home. Most of them had never traveled alone or spent the night in their department capital (most of our kids traveled with a local PCV to their department capital the night before the camp so they could arrive on time). Few of them had more than a handful of friends from other departments. Now, here they were, eight hours from home, no parents, surrounded by a group of strangers from places they had probably never heard of, learning to make decisions, learning to make friends, to share, to listen and to think for themselves. That type of experience is much more likely to stick than anything we said or tried to teach, which is good, because it is much more important.