Sunday, July 24, 2016

YMLP 2016: Thumos Encapsulated

"There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly...the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being." Michel de Montaigne

          Well I cannot believe that it’s been a year since last year’s YMLP camp but is has.  Obviously I was excited to return to Shula Mina in Krusevo not only for the camping but also to see returned campers and my fellow PCV’s. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for us to get together so it’s nice when we do. YMLP is special since it’s purely in English and is held to our American standards of professionalism. 

          Now, before I describe how camp was this year I want to share a special word with you. The Ancient Greeks had a word that they used to define what we know moderns know as "spiritedness". It was "thumos" and it defined not only a person's attitude but their recognition of turning their thoughts into action. It's a quality everyone has but not many tap into.  Fortunately, Young Men's Leadership Project, or YMLP, recognizes this quality in the youth here and creates the space to channel their thumos. With the camp's core classes comprising of Democracy, Civic Responsibility, Personal Development, Leadership and Environmentalism there are plenty of topics for discussion. Additionally, the camp electives include American football, baseball, chess, Man Up, drama, art, basketball, poetry, music, self-defense and yoga. It's designed to challenge the campers thinking and to develop their known talents as they're learning new ones.  Essentially, YMLP provides positive outlets for young men to channel their thumos while developing their character.

          For myself last year's camp was about impacting the campers only on my team, the White Walkers. This year I focused on expanding my influence to include not just my former campers, nor the returning campers but all of the campers. Moreover, I opened up on sharing what I do alone, exercising, and how to process it as a mentor so I could motivate the campers to add it to their own lives. 

What a beautiful setting for a camp.
Before the campers arrived we had to get the campfire set up.
This year my Junior Counselor, Dimitar, and I were excited to meet our new team.
We were all catching up as everyone filled into camp.
For some of the campers it was their first time in a tent so we made sure they knew how to set it up.
This year we were the Purple Knights and they were phenomenal young men. We bonded over the week during rough camp, playing sports, bonfires, classes, ghost stories and through deep conversations and goofy ones. 
For the first time in years a TV was operational so we could watch the EuroCup final. (I was disappointed Portugal won). 
Petar, Kiko and Blagoja.*
Kyle kept the bonfires lit and the axes sharp.*
Why yes Jenga is a great team-building activity.
Ready for class.
Ready for the next challenge to challenge themselves.
During the classes we teamed up with other groups to complete the challenges.
They passed every challenge with flying colors.

          Rough camp is one of the campers favorite nights at YMLP as they get to start a fire, cook their dinner and sleep out in the woods on their own. It's the first time many of them get to do all of these activities not to mention eat s'mores! I love rough camp as it's when the team gels over stories, sharing our life experiences and ghost stories. 

They were pumped to get the fire going and start cooking dinner.
A perfect setting for life stories and ghost stories.
My terrible attempt at a selfie.
No need for an alarm when the sun wakes you up.
My lovely room. 


          Located in the heart of Macedonia at Krusevo, the Shula Mina cabins and grounds are well known. It's the perfect venue for a summer camp and is much cooler than the cities in the valley. I especially enjoyed looking at the stars through the trees while laying in my hammock. 

Shula Mina.
Four times a day the teams lined up for announcements, activities and to sing our team chant.*
Lunch time. (Don't ask me about the "unique" paintings). 
Excluding breakfast, each team, facilitator, Junior Counselors, support staff and Counselors took turns serving the meals. 
During my "Lifting with Logan" elective campers learned about exercising using only their body weight and natural materials. However, if they were expecting to bro out they quickly learned something else.  Before we even lifted a finger we sat down and talked about Motivation, and the negative and positive emotions that fuel it. Then we went through the importance of proper Technique and finally the Exercises themselves.  I only showed them six exercises and then two with the rocks and logs. That was enough, none of them could move the next day!  The best part was how the session sparked conversation about many other things including body image, treating women with respect, dating advice, healthy eating, positive competition and overall self-improvement. 
All week long the campers chanted "awesome" whenever Alex said something or gave an announcement they liked. Well one day he broke it down and one of my Purple Knights captured that very special moment. Then they made this in-camp meme so we could use it in our chant. Oh how fun that was!
Learning about self-defense.
The guys were ready for their next challenge.
The had to be lead around the obstacle course by their Junior Counselor.
There was a large chess tournament too.
I love chess and these guys were quite good at it. 
Dinner time.
They also played Ultimate.** 
American football was taught by Aaron and I. *
Every night we had a bonfire to hang out at. 
Last year he was my Junior Counselor, this year he was a Counselor himself, my man Riste.
A few of us counselor's hung out to watch the Olympics.
Without these six individuals YMLP wouldn't have been the great success it was.
Sleeping outside in my hammock, and the electronic detox, was heaven.
YMLP, I will miss it dearly. 
          Again, YMLP was a phenomenal week of working with my fellow PCV's and the young men of Macedonia.  Moreover, I relished in the opportunity to find ways to mentor those young men and to help show how they can channel their thumos.  It also was a week of defining character, challenging assumptions and just enjoying playing outside. From last year's camp to this year's camp I've grown a lot and recognize YMLP's impact on me has proven there is a need for a leadership camp back home. When I return home I will also seek to find a similar organization to YMLP and if there isn't one then I'll create one so there's a positive outlet for young men to channel their thumos while developing their character. Stay cool and enjoy your Sunday.  

*Photo by David Strouse
**Photo by Bryce Davis


  1. Hello,
    My name is Ben Shultz. I came across your blog on Macedonia and I wanted to let you know about the book I just published about my time there.

    I lived in Macedonia for three years because my wife is from there, and the book is about my experiences there and thoughts on the society and culture.

    I thought you might be interested in reading it. The book is called "From the Bluegrass to the Balkans" and it is available on Amazon.

    Check it out if you can!

    All the best,

    Ben Shultz

    1. Ben,

      Thanks for the heads up on your book and congratulations on having it published. I'll check it out.