GAD Camp…I’ve been talking about GAD Camp non-stop since November 2012. GAD stands for Gender and Development and is an organization, composed of and run by current Peace Corps Volunteers. Its mission is to educate and promote women's rights and the awareness of gender issues among the women, men, and youth of Panama through training, conferences and workshops. The group also focuses on educating Panamanians on health and social problems that touch men, women and families. And, GAD Camp plays a major role in GAD’s work in Panama.
One objective of the camp is to provide the students with the knowledge and tools needed for the development of future leaders. Students will learn about self-esteem, goal setting, decision-making, conflict resolution, and project design and management, often using well-known Peace Corps Panama tools like "EMART" and "POCA". The planning and development of a project to be carried out in their communities will further enhance the participants’ leadership skills. Another key objective is to teach sexual education in a manner that highlights family planning, HIV/AIDS, and sexual health. In the end, the hope is that the students will be able to utilize their decision-making tools to make healthy decisions as it relates to their sexual health and future.
Back at the end of November I found out that my community’s youth applicants were not accepted to the January conference in San Felix. In response, I immediately began to plan a second GAD Camp West (two already existed in the country, but this would be the second western regional GAD Camp for 2013). My determination did not wane and I submitted a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) proposal with Jacy Woodruff, whose site would host the weeklong camp.
In April we hosted a Training of Trainers (TOT) for the facilitators in Jacy’s site, Quebrada el Bajo, during which we discussed all the material to be covered during the camp. My mind also raced through all the possible scenarios of disasters and accidents that could happen. My mind continued to race as I thought of the appropriate and reasonably feasible responses to said mishaps, considering we were hosting almost 35 students from other communities in Bocas del Toro, the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, Veraguas, and Chiriqui in a community located 20 minutes up a river by boat from the nearest “town,” 45 minutes from the nearest hospital, and over 3 hours from the nearest decent hospital. I should say that, despite all my worries, I think my first-aid kit was only touched by a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who was not used to Bocas food or water.
Once we discovered that the kids desperately wanted to shower (or rather bath in the river) in both the morning and evening and that they needed to do so in order to even begin thinking about enjoying the conference, everything in the conference went well. Despite only having one urinal and one flush toilet, that clogged one morning forcing Jacy to purchase a plunger in the nearest town, Chiriqui Grande, the sanitation system went fairly smoothly. Meanwhile, the PCVs happily used her composting latrine. Sleeping in the school on thin foam mats posed no problem. And, no one complained about the food, as often these participants would consider themselves lucky to be eating three whole meals daily. I cannot speak highly enough about the PCVs that helped make the camp the fun and energetic conference that it developed into. The student groups enjoyed a photo scavenger hunt, water balloon fight, and relay races during the Olympics. The final evening saw some brave participants share their gifts in the talent show.
In the end, 44 youth participants, ranging in ages from 12 to 18, were educated in self-esteem, self-image, values assessment, realistic goal-setting, personal development, along with HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy awareness. Finally, the participants divided into groups according to their communities and formulated a plan to execute a community project. In Quebrada el Guabo, Sarah’s community along the Changuinola River in Bocas del Toro, the participants have decided to start a school garden. In time, they are hoping to sell the products to fund various student activities. On Isla San Cristobal, the participants from my community, Valle Escondido, and San Cristobal have already reenacted the self-esteem and self-image presentations given at the camp. This weekend we will be deciding on an August date to visit the San Cristobal middle school in order to cover the remaining topics related to sexual health.
For the many PCVs never hear “thank you” from community members, I want to share a Facebook message (yes, a Facebook message). During the camp we not able to cover the internet objective of visiting an internet cafe, so I taught one of my youth participants how to open both Gmail and Facebook accounts afterwards. The youth participant, Luis, had wanted to open a Facebook account for many months, and upon returning to internet on his own he wrote this message to me:
“Quiero darte las grasias por dame la oportunidad da participar en la conferencia. Te aseguro que voy a luchar por lograr lo que quiera. Fue impresionante. Nunca lo olvidaré. Gracias por pensar en mi futuro. Dios te bendiga.”
This Facebook post translates to:
“I want to give you thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate in the conference. I assure you that I will fight to achieve what I want. It was impressive. I will never forget it. Thank you for thinking of my future. May God bless you.”
I want to give one final shout-out to everyone that made this camp financially possible. Thank you for contributing to the PCPP! The kids learned a lot and had a lot of fun in the meantime. Finally, thank you to Hostel Heike in Bocas del Toro for funding the t-shirts that we gave to the kids. It all meant a lot!