Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Camp HEAL 2012: Youth Helping Youth Fight AIDS

As promised, I'm about a month behind on my summer travel posts... so this will be all about Camp HEAL 2012! The camp took place from July 4th-12th, 2012 in Odessa Oblast.
Everyone from Camp HEAL 2012 in our camp tshirts :D
In a nutshell, this camp has been my favorite camp out of all the camps that I have worked at during my time as a volunteer in Ukraine. This camp has existed for 6 years, but this was just my second summer working at this camp, you can check out my blog post from Camp HEAL 2011. This camp is an English language summer camp for Ukrainian youth, organized by Peace Corps Volunteers and focused on empowering the future leaders of Ukraine. Camp H.E.A.L. stands for human trafficking, education, AIDS and HIV, and leadership. Of course, this camp was only made possible by the generous donations from all of our friends and family back at home... I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who helped fund my partnership grant this spring! This camp was a huge success but it would never have happened without all of your donations and your support!

THANK YOU from everyone at Camp HEAL 2012! 
We stayed at an old Soviet-style sanatorium in a small town called Sergeevka, which is about an hour from the city of Odessa. We had 90 participants at camp this summer, from all different regions of Ukraine. I brought 6 of my own students from my town, and one of the main English teachers that I work with in my school. One of the best parts about this camp is how all the participants come back inspired and motivated to change their lives and their communities, so I'm looking forward to working with my students on more HIV-related projects this fall.

My students on the beach: Ira, (me) , Vadym, Dasha, Katya, Tanya and our teacher Larisa Alexandrovna. 
I am proud to have been a team leader for the Blue Angry Sharks with my friend Lukas, who is a PCV in Odessa. We had six teams, each with 15 students and 2 PCVs as counselors. My team consisted of students who had just finished 10th and 11th grade, and they were an awesome group. We adopted the "Baby Shark" song as our theme and blended it with "Angry Birds" to become the "Angry Sharks"! They were all enthusiastic about the camp activities and worked super hard in the games and challenges all week to overcome the team of university students - I'm proud to say that we finished in 1st place in the overall team points competition!

The Blue Angry Shark team!
Blue Angry Sharks on stage with our team flag.
Showing our best shark faces. 
Over the course of the week, the counselors taught a series of lessons about the biology, transmission and stages of HIV/AIDS, leadership, vounteerism, fundraising, and also human trafficking. One of the most interesting parts of Camp HEAL this year was how the participants actually got to design and implement projects by themselves. After completing 2 lessons on human trafficking, the students created posters in Ukrainian or Russian to advertise the phone number "527" - the Ukrainian national human trafficking prevention hotline sponsored by the International Organization for Migrants (IOM). We took these posters to the beach in Sergeevka and the students completed their 527 awareness campaign by walking up and down the coast and handing out IOM pamphlets. Together, they spoke to just about everyone who would listen on the beach, and I think that they were pleasantly surprised to find that they could really make a difference in people's lives by just opening them up to new ideas and new information about human trafficking.

(roughly) translated: Don't fall into the spider web... call 527!
translation: Do you want to be safe? Call 527!
translation: Humans are not goods for sale! 
(roughly) translated: Don't become a trafficking victim!
translation: We are against human trafficking! Call the 527 hotline! Be aware!
At the end of the week, each team designed a 45-minute lesson about HIV/AIDS and presented their lesson plan on stage. It was fun to see how each team presented the material in different ways, and the team that came up with the best lesson plan would be selected to actually teach their lesson. My team ended up winning this competition, they created a series of activities and skits to present the biology, transmission and about stigma and stereotypes surrounding people living with HIV/AIDS. They taught their lesson to a group of 7th grade students from the local school in Sergeevka!

Comparing the stages of HIV in to a house with less and less bricks. 
the different stages of HIV.
Camp HEAL was a lot more than just teaching lessons and project design: we had different sports challenges  in the afternoons, and team activities in the evening. There were also a variety of "morning exercises" offered each day: running - where students could run to the beach, swim a little and run back; yoga, basketball, African dance, hip-hop dance, and even an introduction to jujitsu (a type of martial arts)! We also had "Street Workout", a very common type of athletic exercise here in Ukraine where you just make do with whatever playground equipment that you can find outside.

Campers doing morning yoga with Erika. 
A few girls showing off their hip-hop dance moves with Kym!
Shooting hoops with Robbie and Alex.
Doing pullups during the Street Workout with Matt. 
The guys LOVED learning some jujitsu moves with Kevin. 
Caitlin (a PCV from Cherkasy region) and I organized a bunch of relay races for one of the afternoon activities. Although it was super hot outside and everyone was getting mosquito bites like crazy, the kids enjoyed competing in the relays. We had different games that are standard at American summer camps, but were completely new to the Ukrainians such as a 3-legged race, balloon races, filling a bucket with a sponge, and passing a water balloon.

Karina and Sophie from the blue team. 
Michelle and the yellow team cheered for everyone, not just their own team!
The guys really got competitive during the races haha. 
The red team celebrates after winning one of the races. 
Filling up a bucket with only a sponge was such a foreign concept to the kids, but they got it pretty quickly!
Alex (our Ukrainian camp director, from the Kharkiv branch of the All-Ukrainian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS) organized an afternoon of leadership activities, which the kids also loved because they had never done these classic team-building exercises before. The first activity was the "web of leadership," a spider web made out of rope strung between two trees. The kids had to pass every team member over to the other side without touching the rope, and using each "hole" only once. The second activity was a memory game, each team member had to step across a 10x10 grid of squares in the correct path. The third activity was a blindfolded snake, where all team members except one were blindfolded and the one who wasn't blindfolded was not allowed to speak. The teams had to navigate blindfolded through an obstacle course by communicating only through different body signals sent by the last person who could see, such as a tap on the shoulder. It was great to see which kids stepped up as leaders of their teams during these activities, and it really helped them understand what it takes to be a leader.

Blue team passes one of the girls carefully through the web. 
Purple team tries a different approach to passing one of their  team members through the web. 
Red team thinks about the path across the grid. 
Yellow team started out by testing the squares to find the right path. 
The girls from the red team are blindfolded and ready to go. 
Purple team is snaking around an obstacle in the path. 
Lana thinks about how to signal her team to go under a rope. 
We had so many other awesome things at Camp HEAL.... fireworks for the 4th of July, a water balloon fight, a hee-ho-ha tournament, a casino game night, a scavenger hunt, a fashion show, a talent show, some "discotekas" in the evenings and singing camp songs! We also had two guest speakers - a man who told his story about living with HIV and a representative from a counter human trafficking organization in Odessa. Here are some quick photo highlights from camp:

Margot judging the champions playoffs for hee-ho-ha. 
The fireworks that the guys set up were amazing! 
Kym and Robbie dancing at the backwards themed disco.
Grace's specialty: leading the 3 "short neck buzzards" song with Liz and Robbie. 
Katya and Tanya cracking up. 
Dance Dance Dance: everybody learning the steps to Cotton Eyed Joe,  Cupid Shuffle and Crank Dat Soldier Boy songs with Matt and Kym. 
Bananas of the world united with Michelle!
Our Peace Corps Ukraine country director, Doug Teschner,  joined in on the Baby Shark song. 
Guess who filled up 500 + water balloons just for this?? me, Kevin and Matt. 
Jill, Jamie, Grace and Margot with two of the girls. 
me with all the teachers who came to camp as chaperones and Andriy, the director of HIV/AIDS programming for Peace Corps Ukraine. 
Ukrainians love talent shows, probably because they are all so talented! After attending numerous school concerts and talent shows, I've learned that almost every Ukrainian girl can sing or dance. We had an assortment of both, plus a few skits and multiple students who were talented piano players.
All the counselors singing "Lean on Me" at the end of the show. 
Pete, Chris, Alex, and Robbie in a band called "NЕМА" (translation:  "don't have anything" - they lip synched and air guitared because their band didn't have anything haha)
Anya and Masha dancing an awesome composition of the how dance progressed through time. 
Katya and Dima dancing to a classic American song from the 1950's. 
A group from the red team dancing to "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
Jason and the Cherkasy Ladies singing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing"
A guitar duet to a song by Adele. 
Girls from purple team dancing together. 
A beautiful contemporary/modern dance solo. 
Olga and Karina after their dance.
And of course, no summer camp would be complete without some fun in the sun! We had a great time hanging out on the beach... everyone got in some quality tanning, splashing around in the water, tossing around a frisbee and football, photo sessions and just chilling in the sand :P
The Human Pyramid. 
The start of my photo session with Karina, Anya, Masha and Olga - my 4 girls from Kharkov <3 td="td">
Feet up.  
with the camp banner!
trying to work on our model poses. 

with Jamie, one of our PCV camp directors!
Dima the Seaweed Monster. 
we buried Matt and Robbie in the sand. 
Kevin tried snorkeling with his recycled Coke bottle. 
Robbie and Grace with DJ Dima (and the crab that he found). 
Chris and Pete throwing Jamie into a backflip. 
a second classic. 
If you've made it all the way to the end of this post, I bet you can understand why I love Camp HEAL!!! I'm bummed that I won't be here in Ukraine for next summer's camp, but I hope it will be just as awesome as ever! 


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