Monday, August 3, 2015

YMLP 2015

"If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together." African Proverb.

          For the past week I was off at Peace Corps Macedonia YMLP camp.  It means Young Men's Leadership Camp and is a week long camp that's run by PCV's for Macedonian youth.  Each young man applies and interviews for our English only camp.  It was the most engaging, challenging, inspiring and stimulating experience I've had in Macedonia and one of the best weeks I've had in nearly a decade. 

          Located above Krushevo, which is the highest inhabited city in the Balkans, we split our time between sleeping in cabins and tents.  Since it never rained I enjoyed crashing in my hammock all week.  My role at the camp was to be a counselor I was able to have a team of great campers who were from all over Macedonia.  They ranged from 14-17, and like all the other campers, were very articulate, intelligent and positive. Like most summer camps we made our own team name, flag and chant to create our team identity.  Our team name was the White Walkers and this is the chant they made:  

We come from every corner,
We cross every border,
You will do__what's our order.

From beneath the ice 
We will rise,
If you try to make it fake
We will throw you in the lake.

White, White Walkers
We control the forests,
 We control the camp
If you join us you will be a champ.

We are strong,
We are brave,
After this camp, nothing will be the same!

The White Walkers.

Andon designing the Walker Crest.
          Of course part of the fun was camping, eating s'more's, going on night hikes and sitting around a campfire sharing ghost stories.  For many of the campers it was the first time they did any of those things and I really enjoyed sharing little tips I've learned from my experiences. 

Camping out in the woods was called "Rough Camp" and this is the walk to it. 
After having a demonstration at Base Camp, the guys were quick study's. 

They loved cooking over the fire and I enjoyed building it. 
One of the campers busted me on a selfie, the one time I take one, and this is me laughing and pointing at him.
Behar and Risto.  Risto was my Junior Counselor and was a great leader for the guys. 

Group shot before the ghost stories began.  Interestingly, they weren't freaked out by stories about people, the crazy ax murderer for example, but only about animals or ghosts. I think one camper barely slept, whoops. 
My morning view.
They survived the night, LNT!
          However, YMLP wasn't just a summer camp but a leadership camp.  So in the morning the campers went to classes on democracy, leadership, civic responsibility and the environment.  In the afternoon they had team building, American sports, art, talking to women, applying for American colleges, social media, dance and mindfulness just to name a few.  Each class was facilitated by a PCV and they all brought their "A" game.  I loved that after each class my team peppered me with questions, their opinions and how to apply the lessons in the real world.  Because the facilitators were so good, it made me better was well.  Not to mention, I had an absolute blast being around so many PCV's.  Being in Ohrid has isolated me from a lot of them and I enjoyed getting to know them, share our Macedonian experiences and just laugh for days. 

Most of the YMLP crew.
Jeremy Grey said it best, "Class, class, class."
They loved playing football, kickball, Ultimate and baseball.
Civic responsibility.

Poetry class was one of the most enjoyable classes to be in, those guys could really write.

Chilling after drama class.
Constantine, what a name, being observant. 

Four times a day we lined up as teams, heard the announcements and chanted. 
The US Ambassador and his wife visited to check out the camp and answered questions from the campers.
Both gave interesting insight to life as diplomats. 
All of the YMLP crew and campers.
          At the end of the week we had our YMLP Olympics which tested each group's knowledge and teamwork. The White Walkers won the Olympics and finished second overall.  Of course I was pumped but I was proud to see them apply so many lessons from the classes, and our conversations, throughout camp.  The last night had each team make a skit about the week and the White Walkers nailed their impression of me.  I haven't laughed and simultaneously blushed that hard in years.  Before they left I gave them a hand written copy of my favorite poem, IF by Rudyard Kipling.  For me, it epitomizes the lessons of being consistent, focused but centered no matter what is going on in your life.  
For the Olympics I supervised the fire building station.
Man, those skits were hilarious.
          I gained a lot from this week and will strive to apply what learned to my kids at work.  I could've stayed all summer and will be looking forward to returning next year. 

Seeing the Moon rise over those mountains was spectacular.

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