YUGA Leadership Camp
A day in the life of a YUGA camper
By Rachel M., YUGA member and camper
7:30 Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . . I wake up to the sound of the alarm clock while I slowly get out of my top bunk bed. Ready for another exhilarating day at YUGA camp! My five friendly roommates, Julia, from Sweden, Cassidy, Caitlyn, Marisa, and Livia, all from the U.S., are still half asleep as I put my summer clothes on and tiptoe out of the room.
8:15 Past the calm lake and the blueberry bushes on the side of the dirt road that stretches through the entire camp. The sounds of nature surround us-birds chirping, leaves crunching, and bugs buzzing around the tall trees. Up the wooden ramp to the dining hall where happy chefs are serving fresh pancakes and cantaloupe in the kitchen. I sit down at a random table with some familiar faces and some I am excited to get to know.
9:00 All of the campers are socializing in the main hall. It’s a diverse crowd from all over the world. I have met new friends from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Haiti, Ivory Coast and the United States.
9:15 The day’s first workshop begins. Two flip charts are hung up on the wall labeled "cause and effect". “So today we're going to talk about the causes and effects of global warming,” says Julian, an environmental activist from the group Rising Tide, kneeling down as we surround him in a half moon circle. Half an hour passes and our papers are full. Wow. How all of this; hurricanes, cars, everything has led up to this huge crisis, Global Warming. What if something like Hurricane Katrina struck us? What would we do?
10:00 You’re a child soldier with some difficult decisions to make. You are in war and you want to escape. What do you do? I never really realized what difficult choices child soldiers have to make. If I was in the real situation I don’t know what I would do.
11:00 Outside on the sunny porch with Kate, our awesome staff, and Marissa, one of the campers. A big flip chart with squares and numbers is on the wall. Each camper is given a card with a behavior on it. The idea of the workshop is a game show where a contestant goes up with a card and sticks it on the flip chart. Like using needles that aren’t sterile would be a high risk of getting AIDS so we would put it on the number 20 for example. This workshop was really fun; we were learning but also having fun.
12:00 Lunch time. Grilled cheese with French fries, pretty good.
1:00 Swim time! I jump off the dock as one of our awesome staff, Kelsey, yells “Chicken” and I present my best chicken imitation mid-air. So cool that people who only have known each other for a couple of days are like a big family, wanting to change the world.
3:00 Free time. Sitting in my room playing a card game with some of the other campers. Everyone glaring at the cards, so engaged in the game that nothing could distract them.
4:00 Time for the jewelry-making workshop run by Cara, a member of the Plan USA staff. I sit at a table in the craft room stringing beads for a necklace I will wear for a long time. I am surrounded by YUGAns and peaceful rain.
6:00 Dinner time! Lasagna, and a homemade brownie for dessert, mmmm. . . .
7:30 Finally! What everyone has been waiting for! Freddy who is from Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa, is leading an African dance workshop! We all sit back and watch while Freddy puts some music on and starting moving. Wow! Look at him dance! Soon we’re all on our feet learning how to dance the “Sick Chicken”. Laughing and dancing . . . there’s a happy feeling in the room.
9:00 It’s dark and we’re walking on the trail with no flashlights, holding onto each other’s shoulders as we enter the woods. No one makes a peep while we listen to the peaceful sounds of nature, birds chirping, insects humming and frogs croaking. What an awesome way to end the day!
What they took home with them
This year’s YUGA Leadership Camp was an exciting week full of fresh ideas, fun times, and new friendships, but YUGA campers are taking home much more than just photographs and memories. Youth from all over the country are heading back home motivated and armed with a plan to energize their own YUGA chapters.
Melanie, a YUGA member from Massachusetts, has been involved with YUGA for several years, and is ready to start the school year off on the right foot. “I'm planning on meeting with the school vice principal to figure out if I can start a YUGA chapter at the school and get an advisor . . . I think the most important thing is for me to plan a calendar of events out and stick to my plan.” Melanie is already thinking about how to sustain her YUGA chapter once it is started, and plans on bringing her new group members back to camp with her next year so they will be prepared to take over once she graduates.
Allegra, another longtime YUGA member, is returning to her chapter armed with new skills and resources. “We did not know the proper way to write a grant last year so the new grant writing skills we learned this year at camp will benefit our YUGA chapter tremendously,” Allegra wrote. “We also learned new ways to recruit new members into our school chapter and also ways to keep them interested and coming to meetings.”
Other campers spoke of feeling rejuvenated and re-energized in their mission to change the world. Marisa, a Rhode Island YUGA member, reflected on her camp experience. “Even as a member of YUGA for about 4 years, I was able to expand my knowledge. I left camp with a new motivation and determination to make tangible change in the world."
For Nikki, who runs a YUGA chapter in her high school in St. Petersburg, Florida, the highlight of this year’s YUGA camp was all the new relationships she formed. “I made 25 new friendships and learned something from each and every single one of them every day. It so amazing when you put 45 kids in one room that are so passionate about making a positive change in the world and there is never a moment you are not learning from one another."
Kirby, another YUGA camper, echoed Nikki’s sentiments. “The people at YUGA are what make it so great. They are the ones who inspire you to be the best. If it wasn’t for the strong support of the great people at camp I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I feel confident enough to go back home and lead my community through great projects. Even if it gets hard, I know I have the support of my fellow YUGA friends."
The experiences of the campers at the 2008 YUGA Leadership Camp are reflected in the words of Susan, a member of the Cranston East High School YUGA chapter in Rhode Island. Susan writes, “I learned to put our differences aside and join together. I learned to be more patient. I learned that leadership comes in all forms. I was inspired by the youth of the world. I experienced the most heartfelt of goodbyes of my life. I was inspired by everyone at camp. I learned that words cannot express the way I was changed in one week."