By Erika Melek
A lot happened during this trip- so much that there aren’t even enough words to describe it. The best I can do is try to give a brief summary, but even then, it still couldn’t be comparable to the real experience.
It began with a group of strangers (for the most part). 11 people who have walked past each other in the halls, knowing mainly faces and not too many names. It was nerve-wracking -going on a trip like this- because no one from our school had gone before. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into… I didn’t anyway.
When we landed in Saint Lucia, I still felt like I was in Canada, just on a roadtrip with a bunch of people I didn’t know and for some reason it was super hot. Like, really really hot. It didn’t even click for me when we reached Aunt Shelly’s place, and that should have been a real indication that I wasn’t at home anymore. The only time that it clicked for me was at dinner, when we were all gathered around sharing war stories about our school experiences or talking about stupid political leaders that have names that rhyme with “frump”. I really felt like a family at that point, and that was a feeling that I never wanted to lose.
Every day just got better and better for me, with every second that I spent in this new, foreign place, I found the more at peace I felt with myself. That wasn’t even the best part. The amount of love that I felt for everyone on the trip with me and the people that I met in the country just grew everyday to the point where I couldn’t contain it. I would want to laugh for no reason or hug someone without a purpose, just because I was so happy. I’m a fairly anxious person and have been ridden with this undesirable trait for quite a while now, but during those 10 days, I found no time where I was anxious, no time where I felt weak.
The strength I gained just from feeling the love of everyone around me was overwhelming and I would die to feel that way again. That’s why I need to go back to Saint Lucia. I need to go back home.
I wanted to share a letter with you that I received at mini-camp last month.
Shyan has been at camp for 3 summers now. She is the top student in Form 1 at her High School in Castries where she now lives with her father during the school year. Her mother lives in our village as does her aunt and grandmother.
Dear Aunty Shell and other camper helpers
Good morning aunties, I am just writing this letter to inform you all that I am really grateful for your return back to our lovely country St. Lucia. I am only sorry about what happened before.. I thought that camp was never going to go on, but from the moment I heard that camp was still going on I actually rushed down to my mom’s house.
Camp is not only about fun for me, it is like going to school on holidays and weekends, we read, eat, drink, go to the beach and we play.
At camp we get sponsored with lots of things. Especially school items, we get vouchers, groceries, and the most important thing we get at camp is love. Aunty Shel thanks for everything you have done for me and the other camping students.
Thank you very much. We love you all so much.
It is so nice to know that Camp Sylvester is a special place for many children in the village of Anse La Verdure. Thank you for partnering with us to make this possible.
We have registered 33 campers for this summer. All our junior leaders and junior staff are returning which is very exciting. We currently have a small waiting list and hope to be able to accommodate.
There has been a great response to our camper support this year but we still have a number of campers who are awaiting their Canadian Friend.
Thank you so much for your continued support.
Camp has gone really well with 34 campers in house. The weather has been perfect and the sea has been great for swimming.
We are using Charlie and the Chocolate factory to support our preparations for our trip to the Hotel Chocolat for a tour of their plantation next week. What fun as Willy Wonka (Auntie Tippy) sends them hunting for their Golden Ticket or the Golden Eggs.
They are loving all the crafts with Auntie Olivia and Auntie Kristine. Auntie Anna is keeping us all on schedule while the Rug Rats and assisted by CJ are keeping busy up on the balcony.
There are several family situations in the village that continue to be of concern. Please pray for protection and provision for these children and wisdom for us to know how to encourage and support.
Our first ever May team was a huge success. Eleven volunteers arrived in St. Lucia on May 7th and immediately got to work.
Our first stop was a morning visit to the Canaries Pre-School were we played games with the children, read stories, and enjoyed being together. We even used a parachute in the parking area of the old service station across the road!
We immediately shifted into camp mode as the courtyard was converted to our space station.
For 5 days of Saturdays and Sundays, the campers came down to join us as we learned all about our solar system, space travel, and rockets. The whole team got involved in acting out the skits, doing crafts, playing games, community time, and then heading down to the beach for sand play, soccer and swimming in the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
On Sunday our 13th volunteer arrived just in time to switch gears again. We spent Sunday evening making sure everything was ready for our Monday morning arrival at Canaries Infant School. We ran a 5-activity rotation that kept every student and teacher involved using a turtle theme. There was turtle science, crafts, games, math, and literacy activities that featured Canada’s own Franklin!
The conditions were very hot and dusty but the volunteers did a super job of keeping the students engaged. Recess was spent reading and playing. By lunchtime we were ready to return to the house for some quiet time and a great meal from TiTi, Joanna, and Katie.
On Friday we created special activities that began with a community challenge around the village to answer questions. Both students and teachers enthusiastically led the volunteers around the village. Part of the challenge was to deliver donated medical supplies to the village health clinic along with a commode chair that was carried through the village by the Grade 2 students.
After a great first week in the school, camp began again Saturday morning with some children arriving by 7:30. The Junior Leaders did a great job of helping, continuing many of their summer jobs, including making Sunday morning pancakes with Uncle Scott!
We celebrated Mother’s Day in St. Lucia by helping the campers to create cards and gifts for their mothers. We were able to let the campers select from a wide variety of toiletries to create a bag of goodies. We also found creative ways to share t-shirts, school bags, and flip flops that had been donated.
Sunday at noon we had to say goodbye to 5 volunteers as they headed off to the airport for home. The campers gave them a great send off but we were sad to see them go.
Monday morning the remaining 7 volunteers returned to the school to become classroom helpers. We were not quite sure how this would work out but we all felt it had been very worthwhile and the timing was perfect.
I want to share a story with you, not to take credit, but to show what is possible when people decide that something needs to change.
The story starts 11 years ago. Camp Sylvester was new, so new, it didn’t have a name. We didn’t know the children but we had this idea that we could spend 4 weeks together and make a difference.
We knew that one of our biggest challenges would be behaviour. The children were very excited, the culture was different, and our expectations were high. We expected them to listen, we expected them to co-operate, and we expected them to learn. We expected the same from every child.
It soon became clear that most of the children wanted to listen, co-operate, and learn. But…. some found it hard. One in particular stood out. His name was Aloysius and he was different, we could see that. He was only 9 but he had a lot of “baggage”.
The other campers were quick to blame him for everything. His behaviour towards others was often unacceptable. We had made it very clear that no camper would be allowed to hurt another in any way. They were given very clear expectations. They were also told that if they failed to co-operate with us, or each other, they would be sent home until the next day.
Among the volunteers, there was speculation about who would be sent home first. We felt it was only a matter of time before one of several boys would cross the line.
It didn’t take long. Aloysius had been warned a number of times that his behaviour towards others was unacceptable. Each time his behaviour seemed to escalate. Finally it became obvious that we needed to follow through and Aloysius was sent home. He was told to return the next day for a fresh start.
The next morning word came down from the village that Aloysius’ mother had beaten him. Yikes!! This was not an acceptable outcome. We needed to rethink out strategy.
Aloysius did return to camp and from that day on he lost his swimming time when his behaviour deteriorated. This served 2 purposes. It made it clear we were serious in taking away something we knew he loved to do. It also kept the others safe when his behaviour could be the most disruptive.
We managed to get through the rest of camp keeping everyone safe. We were also starting to figure out what and who were triggering his negative outbursts. We made it clear that everyone was welcome to return to camp the following year.
The next year was not quite as bad but Aloysius was still not spending much time in the water. We were realizing however, that several other campers were very good at “setting him up”. We began to help him develop strategies to deal with this.
By the end of the first week of year 3 we made a sudden discovery. No one had had any discipline problems with Aloysius. In fact, we found ourselves complimenting him on his participation and thanking him for his help. He was in the water everyday and the only problem was that he had not learned to swim.
Camp was going very well for Aloysius and his thank you letters to his Camp Supporter indicated how much camp meant to him. Unfortunately, school was not going well. Aloysius had never learned to read and write well. When it was time to enter high school, he was sent to the catchment school for the lowest students.
This school should have offered just the help Aloysius needed to catch up. He was eager to improve. However, the staff had no special training. The curriculum and expectations were the same as those of the top schools on the island.
Aloysius struggled through his first 2 years. In the summer before his 3rd year was to begin he approached me to ask for help to attend the CARE program. CARE is a wonderful program for students who are not academically inclined. It provides a first year program called the Adolescent Development Program run by a wonderful, caring teacher. The students are encouraged to learn more about themselves, their background, their strengths and weaknesses.
With financial support from 2 of our volunteers, Aloysius did very well at CARE and began to display more confidence at camp and in the village. At camp he had become a Junior Leader and he took his role seriously. He was especially watchful when the children were in the water. He still needed help to write his Thank You letters but it was obvious that he felt much better about himself.
At CARE, Aloysius decided to study to become a Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technician. Over the next 2 years he worked hard at his studies, kept himself out of trouble, and became a very reliable Junior Leader at camp.
This past summer, on the 2nd day of camp, Aloysius came down early and asked to speak to me. Shyly he handed me his certificate of graduation from CARE and his trophy. It was a special moment!
Not only had he graduated but also he was given the award as Most Skilled. In a trade that is a big deal.
He made a speech I am sure he had rehearsed for days, thanking me and his sponsors for making this possible for him. I was in tears as I hugged him and congratulated him on all he had achieved.
The economy in St. Lucia has never recovered from the recession. Many have lost jobs or have had their hours cut. Many have given up, some have never even tried.
Aloysius has applied to every company on the island that needs his skills. He has been told that no one is hiring right now. When I asked him what he planned to do, he looked me right in the eye and announced he was to keep visiting them again and again.
Here is a young man who was given the opportunity to reach his true potential. He seized that opportunity and he made it his own.
If Aloysius’ story was the only positive one I could share with you I would be disappointed. So many people have invested their time, energy, financial support, encouragement, and love in the kids at Camp Sylvester over the past 11 years.
His is not the only positive outcome and I am grateful but if he were the only one, he would be enough!
This is not quite the end of Aloysius’ story. I just received the best news ever. Aloysius has a job. All his hard work and perseverance paid off. I can’t wait to hear all about it. What a wonderful role model he has become for the entire village.