Dostar Rural Orphanage Project, Summer Youth LeadershipSchool 2010, & Becca’s Birthday (Part I)
These last few weeks have beenabsolutely the most fun, unreal, busy, rewarding and crazy of my time inKazakhstan – all in a good way! Assoon as I got back from vacation, we were put to work preparing two projectsthat we had won funding for in the spring. The first was an orphanage visit to Sairam as part of ourorphan transition project (generously funded by the American Councils’ FLEXprogram), in which we teach life skills to older youth about to transition fromthe orphanages into their own independent lives outside. All in all an incredible project thatwas great to be a part of. Ouryoung volunteers from the Volunteer Youth Leadership Center “DOSTAR” held threedays worth of sessions on leadership, sexual health and professionaldevelopment. My session the lastday was on goal-setting. It was agreat bonding exercise for us trainers too and a good warm-up for what was tocome at our leadership school!*
[Games and trainings at the orphanage]
The Summer Leadership School 2010 (fondly known as ЛШЛ, or Летняя Школа Лидерства)has been the annual highlight event for the volunteers of our organization forages. The first SLS was heldeight(!) years ago and it has been evolving, improving and growing every yearsince then as our trainers have become more and more experienced and newleaders and participants have joined. It is a six-day camp that combines all ofthe best peer-to-peer trainings in an intimate environment where trainers andparticipant youth from at-risk or underprivileged groups live, learn and playtogether. This year we had ourinternational Y-PEER youth trainers, Dostar volunteers, youth from two ruralorphanages, and HIV+ youth and their social environments (peers and familymembers). Participants range from ages 14-21 and our team of counselor/campleaders (важатые) were all in that same age range. While some people wonder how we do not face moredisciplinary problems with counselors being the same age as participants, I cansay that the peer-to-peer model works special wonders in the camp environmentand in our volunteer work in general. Having counselors in positions of leadership who are the exact same ageas participants (as young as 14) and can have fun, befriend and socialize witheveryone on an equal level while simultaneously embodying a real-life model ofsuccess, responsibility and proactivity is an amazing inspiration to the kidsthat attend the camp. By the end,they were all asking how they could become volunteers and counselors at nextyear’s SLS!
This year ourcamp was funded by PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Fund for AIDS Relief) throughPeace Corps (thank you!). Our campwas extraordinary throughout, and it opened in a particularly extraordinaryway. We had the honor of hostingU.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, who wasspecially appointed to this pilot position by Secretary Hillary Clinton. The embassy contacted me about helpingto arrange her public diplomacy trip to engage with youth in the Muslim regionsof South Kazakhstan, and as luck would have it she was able to open our campwith an inspirational speech and an illuminating focus group/Q&A with ourkids. SR Pandith talked about Muslimidentity, technology and information sharing, intercultural experience, and theimportance and potential of youth leadership worldwide. It was a great pleasure to meet her andthe trip’s support staff from the State Department and the Embassy in Astana. We had a number of media releases fromher visit, including the Embassy press release and two television reports (when I finally got back to thecity a week later I was informed by many local friends of my 5 minutes of fame on our SKO channel!).
As for the otheractivities, the pictures and this rough schedule should tell it all:
8:00 a.m. –Wake-up call
8:30 a.m. –Morning exercises (stretching and dancing!)
9:00 a.m. –Breakfast
10:00 a.m. –Trainings (sexual & reproductive health, team building, leadership, humanrights, youth in governance, goal setting, time management, publicspeaking/theater skills)
1:00 p.m. – Lunch
2:00 p.m. –English Club
3:00 p.m. –Outdoor activities (sports, relay races, a «detective»-themed scavenger hunt)
4:30 p.m. –Shower
5:00 p.m. – Preparationfor evening activities
7:00 p.m. –Dinner
8:00 p.m. –Evening activities (Music videos, КВН Comedy Club [MUCH better than this one…remember that?!], Halloween, finaltheater-based enactments on human rights, secret friend ceremony)
10:00 p.m. –Dance! (Diskoteka!)
11:30 p.m. –Feedback
12:30 a.m. –Sleep
As you can see,none of us slept much the whole week! It was full of memorable moments: an open discussion about HIV stigma,Britt’s UN video of 30 human rights that one of our volunteers simultaneouslytranslated into Kazakh, a water balloon toss-turned-fight, unbelievable actingin the evening activities by some of the kids who were so shy they wouldn’t saya word the first day, a choreographed counselor dance to MJ’s Thriller (in fullcostume!), writing silly notes to each other and trying to guess our “secretfriends” (each person was assigned one and we all had envelopes hung in thehallway to leave notes in), everyone writing down their “SMART” goals in lifeand sharing them, me instilling a newfound love of basketball into everyone inmy group on a dusty court on sports day, crazy dancing to both Rihanna andKazakh traditional music at every night’s diskoteka, distributing kefir andsweet rolls as a midnight snack, watching the kids put on a “roast” skit makingfun of all the vazhatis (counselors), going around in a circle for an hour eachnight at feedback and talking about how amazing each day was and everyone’sfavorite activity and thanking each other, staying up all night the last night(SLS tradition!) to watch shooting stars and play pranks on whoever fellasleep, kids in tears at the end as we were leaving because they didn’t want toleave their new friends and great memories.
[Teambuilding exercises the first day of camp]
[Learning body parts at English Club!]
[One of the “brigades” (teams) after their skit!]
[Water balloon (/water condom:P) fight!!!]
[My favorite picture. We counselors were supposed to be spies for the detective scavenger hunt. Evi is не в тему:D]
[Everyone at the camp wanted a Chinese tattoo of their name. Only mine was real (the name, not the tattoo)! :P]
[With fellow counselor and lovely friend Aida]
Finally, it isworth mentioning that the last day of the camp happened to be my birthday, andit will go down in history I am sure as one of the most memorable ones I’veever had. At a little after midnightas we were doing feedback on the day, everyone burst into the “Happy Birthday” song. Then Zhenya (mycounterpart’s son and one of my new adopted little brothers who is so cute westarted a fan club in his name) called me over to check my Secret Friendenvelope….he and Nurbek (another one of our 14yo heart-breaker counselors withyet another fan club :) had somehow acquired fresh roses andleft them there just minutes after the clock struck midnight on my bday. I nearly cried it was so adorable andthoughtful! That night my directorand her son called to send their wishes and I got several other texts andmessages from friends both in Kazakhstan and at home (thank you, guys!). Then the next morning I woke up toposters lining the dorm walls of the camp…the other counselors had stayed uphalf the night making them and a special “Happy Birthday” envelope above mynormal envelope that was stuffed to the brim with paper hearts and everyone’swell-wishes. On top of that I gotseveral other birthday songs, a dedication to Enrique Iglesias at the night’sdiskoteka:P, many calls from home and a video/slideshow montage to celebrateboth the end of both my most memorable bday and our amazing camp.
[My little brothers <3]
[Note Zhenya’s печенька! 😀 Love you guys!]
Needless to say Ileft SLS 2010 with a heart full of love for all our amazing team of volunteersand counselors, awe at all our gifted kids and all their potential despite somany life hardships, wonderful contacts from the embassy and state department,and a renewed sense of inspiration and dedication to my work and friendshere. Life could not bebetter. And the adventurescontinue – more on my birthday party (Part II!), summer Dostar “Family Reunion” pool party, more successful project and grant news, etc. to come in the nextpost!
*In between thesetwo projects were two other important events. The first was Britt’s HIV/AIDS Training of TrainersConference, which 4 of our guys attended and adored. Thank you Britt for the wonderful training ideas, many ofwhich our guys used at SLS! The second event was an NGO roundtable that Ihelped organize for SR Pandith’s South Kazakhstan visit. It was very successful and she was awonderful and fascinating guest, as always. Thanks to the U.S. State Department and Embassy Astana forletting ABWK and Dostar be such a big part of her visit!
[NGO Roundtable with SR Pandith]