“This is different”

First time mariners

First time mariners

Smiles were nearly bursting out of their faces as the boys rowed the simmering black army raft across the glistening, rust-colored lake.  Noe (Noah) was a fitting captain and with newfound skill guided his crew in an ever more direct line toward the far shore.  Santiago and Ricardo threw their backs into each stroke.  They must reach the fish tower first.  Failure was not an option.  Only seconds were wasted in an impromptu attack on the other raft as it drew near, leaving both crews drenched and laughing.

The determined enthusiasm put forth by the boys from Jireh and the bewildered excitement shown by the boys from Casa de Amistad were most certainly the determining factor behind incessant comments of “this is the best camp I’ve ever been to!” and, “I love doing these extreme activities!”  Thanks to the boys’ positive attitudes, all the rappelling, rock climbing, ropes courses and boating became transformational activities, and now form the basis of their expectations for future camps with Fundacion Aventura.  “When is the next camp?  When are we coming back?” Music to an organizer’s ears.

Karen loved the challenge of the ropes course

Karen loved the challenge of the ropes course

Side note: We realized early on that communication with this group would be difficult when the gathering point shut down for summer vacation, and due to the fact that most of the young men and women do not have a working cell phone.  And while we don’t want to focus on where they come from (the jails and the streets), as this is not who they are but merely their context, it does have an impact when attempting to coordinate activities with them.  We tried calling friends, facebook messaging, handing out reminders and publishing posters with the dates, but in the end I had to go into the jail to call them out, and only got a handful.  All the same, I think this was a special group of young men and women, and that they have been hand picked to be the movers and leaders within their respective circles.  Although turnout was low, word will most assuredly spread to the other kids enlisted in the program, and next time they will not miss.

Odaliz encourages Zulma to take the plunge

Odaliz encourages Zulma to take the plunge

I’m so proud of the guys and girls who came to the adventure camps this season. Everyone who came assumed an attitude that embraced challenges right from the start. We inflated and launched the rafts in a flurry of excitement and were soon in the water, noonday sun beating on our necks and glaring on the water.  Under such conditions it was not a hard sell to get everyone in the water.  For the girls, first Karen went in, despite deeply-rooted fears of deep water, and her instant smile and giggles were a great encouragement to Odaliz and Zulma, who one by one slipped over the edge and plunged into the cold water.  First, hanging onto the sides of the raft but soon letting go to fully experience the freedom of swimming in a limitless body of water.  Anna then gave them some swim lessons which the girls quickly learned and practiced.  It was a good thing we were not pressed for time because getting them out of the water again proved quite difficult.  For the boys, several had the same fear of deep water, as most kids in the inner city don’t really know how to swim, and have no experience with lakes or rivers.  Nevertheless, everyone went in, and Brandon proved his courage by going overboard and then encouraging Beymar and Elmer to take the leap of faith.

Rowing was mastered in a matter of minutes, in particular by Santiago, Noe, and Ricardo, three friends who understood each other and seemed to have an intuitive form of communication, neither over-correcting when the boat began to turn nor missing a beat in the rhythm of strokes taken as one boat.  Yet despite their cohesion as a group, they were not exclusive and were quick to call other boys to join them in their exploits, whether fishing at dusk in high winds, at dawn on a lake smooth as glass, or on the ropes course.  I am really proud of this group in particular for their determination on the rock wall.  Despite some setbacks they did not give up on the “easy” section, and when presented with the challenge of a smooth overhang with nothing but a vertical crack to grip, they didn’t bat an eye, launching themselves repeatedly at desperate holds, with or without shoes, until they each achieved it.

Santiago conquers the rock face

Santiago conquers the rock face

I was also impressed with Gary, the oldest guy in the group and with a lot to risk in that position of leadership.  He is conscious of being somewhat of a figurehead for the whole program, and that many of the younger boys look up to him and expect him to do well.  But this was his first time boating, rock climbing, on a ropes course and being launched into the air on a giant inflatable cushion on the lake.  There were many ways to screw up, lose image and fail, and he didn’t even have the option of declining to participate, as this would make him a huge wuss.  But Gary risked it and gave every activity a valiant attempt, or two or three; sometimes achieving and sometimes failing but always giving it his best shot.

Gary (center) leads his team to success on the ropes course

Gary (center) leads his team to success on the ropes course

The girls approached the ropes activity with the same initial hesitancy followed by an unbreakable determination.  I literally had to detach the slackline from the tree before Karen would give up her attempts to walk 40 feet unaided (Odaliz had already made it).  The trio had fun during the first challenge: a zigzag between towering eucalyptus trees at 3 feet off the ground.  Blindfolding Zulma for the second round had very little effect, as the girls were careful to lead her gently and she seemed to have a good deal of confidence in her companions (a major difference between working with girls and boys).  Brandon once again proved his courage and hauled himself up onto the line and after several attempts, and failures, made it to the halfway point.  He truly did not think he would be capable of even one step, due to his physique, so that was a major victory.  The last activity with the boys was a simple challenge to get all 6 of them from one end of a V to the other without a single participant falling.  It took many many tries and a lot of evolving strategy, and switching out key players, but they all made it in the end amidst a lot of laughter and determination.  The level of teamwork and camaraderie displayed by this group inspired me, as they do not know each other very well and are used to theft, dishonesty and malice.  Indeed, one of the encouragements shouted out on the rock wall was “just like that time you climbed the wall to rob a house!”

The girls made good use of the campfire to fully reflect on the difficulties of self care and taking care of siblings

The girls made good use of the campfire to fully reflect on the difficulties of self care and taking care of siblings

Another major difference between working with girls and boys is that girls are much more reflective and open, sharing their thoughts and experiences around the campfire while boys steal food from each other. Getting them to voice deep thoughts is like, well, like getting teenage boys to voice deep thoughts.  Boys also tend to compare themselves to video-game or comic book characters during the activities, and Ricardo even sang his own epic theme music as he climbed.

To close out camp we were blessed by the generosity of a couple who runs a restaurant on the water with numerous attractions.  They encouraged us to try out their new launching cushion free of charge, and every single one of the girls took a turn being catapulted into the lake.  Most of the boys went for it at least once, although they hesitated after watching Noe fly 40 feet into the air and do at least 5 barrel rolls before plunging into the water.  Ricardo did his best to imitate a flying squirrel and ended in a neat dive.  It was a majorly successful first camp with this group, and I am confident that future work with these young men and women will bear much fruit.  As always we couldn’t have done it without our amazing helpers or your support!  My prayer is that you can witness the sheer joy reflected in the faces of these young people, and keep on praying for their growth on a personal level and in their relationships with God.

For a complete view of all the camp photos visit our photo gallery!

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