The week before last, we went to a gathering called the summit, and it was made up of about 30-40 families that came together to talk about homeschool / worldschooling. My mom wrote about it too, which you can read here. But if you ask me, all the good times were happening outside that meeting hall. Who wants to sit around and talk about adult stuff all day? We were outside in the sun having a party.
While the adults had their speeches and activities, there was a kids camp in the town square, where all the kids were being cared for throughout the day so the adults could do their thing in peace. I had volunteered to be one of the kids camp counselors, so I, along with 7 other volunteers my age, took care of around 60 kids from ages 4 to 12. The town square was similar to the one in Pedasi, except this one was clean of trash, it had a bathroom and playground, and it was much bigger. Okay, I guess it wasn’t really that similar at all.
In that town square, there were 5 separate groups of kids. Each group of kids had one of the volunteers as a leader. The 3 extra volunteers were runners. The runners ran around helping each group with things like taking kids to the bathroom, trips to the store, helping make sure all the kids were there, signing kids in and out while the leaders were busy, escorting kids to various places, and so on. I was one of the runners, so I was kept very busy with all of these tasks every single day. It was hard work. And I wasn’t even getting paid for this!
On the night before the summit started, the entire group met up for dinner in town, just so everyone could get to know each other and get familiarized to the town. That night, I convinced a friend of mine named Justin to be one of the volunteers at the last second. I knew Justin from a previous gathering of homeschooling/worldschooling families at the beach. He’s a guy my age that homeschools in the states and has very similar interests, so it wasn’t very difficult to talk to him. I’m glad I convinced him to be a volunteer because he was the life of the party the entire week, and he brought his bluetooth speaker, so we had portable music all day every day, which was very helpful to get the kids’ energy out. Since we already had enough people assigned to each group of kids, he was a runner with me.
Aloys (al-oi-s) was a friend that I made on the night before the summit. She was very nice, and lives in Poland, and we had a couple of interests in common. We had fun talking and getting to know each other on the first night and the next day. We didn’t talk much towards the end, though.
There was a little girl around 5 years old named Kaja (Kiy-ya) that was practically glued at my hip the entire week. She was super sweet, and even helped me with some of my runner duties. We were basically inseparable. She went with me everywhere, and we had a lot of fun together.
Since I was a runner, I went on many, many, many toilet runs with almost every kid at the camp, and I now know the bathroom better than the back of my hand. I even held a toddler over the toilet once. It, uh, wasn’t very exciting. Here is how the bathroom works: You go in and give 5 pesos (30 cents) to the person sitting in the plastic chair at the plastic table, and they give you a wad of toilet paper. There were multiple people (I don’t know who they were, they could’ve been hired by the government to take care of the bathroom or something) who rotated the responsibility of watching the bathroom all day. Some days there were kids doing their homework and taking care of the bathroom at the same time. The people watching the bathroom seemed kind of bored but, I mean, who wouldn’t be? They were stuck in a public bathroom! I think they got a kick out of watching us deal with the kids all day, though.
Sometimes, when I came to the bathroom with the kids, the person in charge of watching the bathroom would ask me what’s going on out there and why I keep coming in with all these little kids. Of course, not without asking if I spoke Spanish first, which would always end up in an impressed glance or slightly wide eyes. Whenever they asked me about it, I would always explain what all these kids are here for, where their parents were, where most of them came from, what worldschooling is, and so forth. Oh, and the inevitable questions of where I live and how I speak Spanish, to which I always reply with the same exact sentences that, to be honest, I’ve become quite good at saying. I also received all these questions from random people in the streets, to whom I happily explained in the language they spoke, whether it be English (the tourists) or Spanish (the locals). I enjoy answering these questions, because I love to see these people’s reactions to my answers.
Speaking of reactions, mine was quite surprised when I first saw the bathroom. It had toilet paper, soap and water. It exceeded my expectations, which were considerably low after living in Panama for a year. Katie, (the organizer of this whole kids camp and my boss for the week), having lived in the states all her life, said that the bathrooms were nasty. Having gone to bathrooms much worse, I got a good laugh out of that.
I think there were only three volunteers (out of seven) that spoke Spanish, one of them speaking Spanish as his first language. I used my Spanish to talk to the bathroom lady and I helped corral the Spanish speaking kids when they strayed too far from the group, as a runner would do, but for the most part, there were only English speaking kids there, and I didn’t get much Spanish practice. I actually would have preferred that there were more Spanish speaking kids/people there, because I feel like that would’ve been great practice for me, and believe it or not, despite me being ultra introverted, I actually enjoy practicing my language skills.
Here’s something funny you wouldn’t expect from an introvert… On the first day, Lainey, the organizer of the whole event, had us play some ice-breaking games with everyone, including the adults. I’ve gone to many, many, many camps, so I know a lot of group activities and games, so I asked Lainey if I could introduce one of my favorite games, Poison Frog, to everyone and we could play it. She said go ahead, and got everyone’s attention.
It was then that I realized in order to explain it to everyone, I’m going to have all eyes on me and explain something to a large group of people. Why was this a problem? Again, I am very, very introverted. My sister Zoe may enjoy attention, but I try to avoid it as much as humanly possible. I actually started to get dizzy and I kind of panicked, but I shouted out how to play the game and slinked away to the sidelines as soon as I could. I was still shaking 3 minutes afterwards. After a couple of rounds, it turned out to be everyone’s favorite!
I’m serious. Everyone loved it so much, they played the game every day for the rest of the week, and I’m really glad they liked it. The game included dying dramatically and trying to find out who killed the people that continue to die, so I can see why the kids loved it so much. I don’t know how the volunteers would have gotten through the week without it, because it occupied so many kids at so many different times. At any given moment throughout the week, you could look around and find at least one group of kids playing the game. By the end, all the volunteers (including me) were sick of the game.
That wasn’t all we did, though. A group of counselors organized a scavenger hunt, where we ran around with the kids (in their respective groups) looking for landmarks around the town and taking pictures in front of them. I didn’t enjoy this activity that much, because it was on a very sunny day towards the end of the week, so I was hot and sore from the previous days. I didn’t have much fun. At least the group I was tagging along with won!
We also did facepaint, chalk, and let the kids draw all over us in marker (see pictures below). We went down to the beach and made sand castles, which ended up in everyone being sandy and windblown, and that wasn’t much fun in my opinion. While we were there, someone had to go to the bathroom, so I had to trek about half a mile with her to go find one while the little 5-year-old girl with a quiet voice was trying to speak to me with the strong, noisy wind all around us. Like I said… being a runner? Not an easy job. Some of the boys (around ages 10-12) wanted to do a wrestling tournament, so we put on some music and let them go at it, with the occasional scolding for almost actually hurting someone. One of the volunteers actually started teaching them how to wrestle properly. I didn’t really approve of this activity and felt like it could’ve been a little more supervised, but in the end nobody was seriously hurt.
Have I mentioned I am very, very introverted? Yes! Well, I’m also germaphobic, so being around little kids touching things and playing at a public park is not my cup of tea. My comfort zone was stretched beyond limits I didn’t even know I had. I was very very uncomfortable, not only because of the kids, but on top of that, I was also very very hot on some days and doing so much exercise to the point of almost fainting. On the last day I actually had all the kids drawing on every single part of my body, and that stretched the limits on my anxiety to the max. You can’t really blame me for taking a shower every night when I came home. It was great practice for my anxiety, if not slightly too much practice, but I got through it.
Some days weren’t that fun because Katie assigned me a bunch of the dirty work, but I can’t complain, I mean, after all, I DID sign up for this, but still. I was not prepared for the exercise. Most of the dirty work she assigned me was running to the store a bunch of times. I went to go get fruit, I delivered messages to the adults, I took a significant amount of kids to the bathroom, and got them down from high places. By the second day I had pulled a muscle in my foot, that continued to hurt for the rest of the week, which sucked. I’m not used to this level of exercise and social interaction, so I usually passed out when I got home. I was actually kind of glad I was a runner instead of watching over a certain group of kids though, because I did get breaks every once in awhile, and I got to sit down and have a snack or drink some water. But my breaks never lasted long, because these kids had the bladders of mice. I’m dead serious.
When I got home each night, I immediately said “I’m going to be alone now”, showered, and passed out. I have a very low tolerance for socialization, so even a couple of hours of talking to someone (with the exception of family and a few close friends) can make me want to lock myself in my room for the rest of the day/night for some alone time. So you can imagine how tired and ready to go to my room I was after 6-7 hours of straight up talking and leading groups. I was EXHAUSTED. Not to mention the amount of pain I was in from the exercise I had done during those 6-7 hours. I barely ever exercise, so running around for even a short period of time will make me extremely sore the next day or the day after. I even had trouble getting up the stairs because of how sore I was. I’m telling you, I never get any exercise. I felt true pain that week.
It was a very interesting experience that I really enjoyed, because I’ve been to a LOT of camps, so I’m used to being one of the campers, but that week was exciting because I finally got to understand the other side, the counselor side. It was also really cool to use some of the tactics I’ve seen from my previous counselors on MY campers instead.
Looking back on it now, I wish it was slightly longer because, despite being uncomfortable most of the time, I was just starting to get the hang of it and get to know the people there a bit better, but there’s always next year! Overall it was a very new and exciting experience for me, and I would love to do another one of these activities in the future. I think I may have found myself a new hobby!