National Access Camp 2012

by Tabitha Kidwell

Some of my happiest moments growing up were spent at Camp Akita – not to mention the two summers in college I spent in camp. Camp helped to make me who I am – I gained confidence from climbing the tower, sharpened my sense of humor while watching skit night, and pondered my religious beliefs during quiet times at Vesper Hill and Bald Eagle. So, when I had the opportunity to help lead a camp for students from across Indonesia, I jumped at the opportunity.

The U.S. State Department’s Office of English Language Programs (which also pays my salary) spends over half of its budget on the Access micro-scholarship, a program that sets up extra-curricular English classes for disadvantaged students around the world. Since 2004, there have been over 85,000 Access students in more than 85 countries. There are 35,000 students worldwide at any given time. In Indonesia alone, there are almost 1,000, in locations stretching from Pekanbaru (on Sumatra) to Ambon (in the eastern Maluku Islands). The Regional English Language Officer in Indonesia (who is more or less my boss) set up a grant to sponsor an English camp for about one-fifth of those students. That means that almost 100 students flew to Jakarta, joined 50 of their their Jakarta peers on buses, and went to “camp” for the first time in their lives. Many of the kids in Jakarta were more cosmopolitan and had had similar experiences in the past, but some of the other students had never so much as been on a plane before. At Camp Akita, I remember always recognizing the first-time campers on the first night of camp. These kids, many of whom were away from their families for the first time, some of whom were more than 1,000 miles from home, deserved a lot of recognition!

We did everything we could to give them the real American camp experience, right down to the snacks. Peanut butter and jelly and trail mix went over pretty well (some picked out the raisins, just like real American kids!), but the hit was s’mores. Well, pseudo-s’mores. Since it rained every evening, a fire was out of the question, and the concept of “graham crackers” (which are unavailable here) somehow developed into “Ritz crackers.” Kids gobbled them up all the same.

We also sang camp songs…

… and played Hide and Go Seek, which prompted some kids to hide here:

Not a great spot since this tree was approximately 10 feet away from where the counselors were closing their eyes and counting, but points for style!

And some all the way out here:

Each morning, we split the students up into workshops. The first morning, I led “Life Map,” where students make a poster showing their lives so far. It was incredible to see where they had come from. Your average American kid would roll his eyes at such a warm-and-fuzzy activity, but these kids poured their hearts into their posters. I practically had to pry the markers out of their hands when time was up.

The next day, I taught American line dances – classics like the Electric Slide, YMCA, Bunny Hop, Cha Cha Slide, Chicken Dance, and Macarena… though all they wanted to do was Gangnam Style, over and over again.

Clearly I am the most qualified to teach dance class. Check out my sweet moves!

I refreshed my spoons skills and my icebreaker repertoire:

And the last night we had some amazing cultural performances:

But mostly, we just hung out with some pretty awesome kids:

They showered a lot more and slept a lot less than your average American teenager, but in the end, they just wanted to make friends, play games, and have fun. And dance Gangnam Style.

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