Camp Fihavanana By the Numbers

We didn’t know how Camp Fihavanana was going to be accepted by the community nor did we know if it was going to be successful. As a storyteller, I want to tell you all about what happened during camp, but I am also going to share some statistics with you on the impact we made at camp. We surveyed our 30 camp participants upon the completion of Camp Fihavanana and all of the information here comes from their answers.

Going into the first day of camp was nerve-wrecking, both for the campers and the camp counselors. For the campers to join something that’s never been done in Moramanga before and not knowing what to expect, they trusted our staff wholeheartedly as they jumped into this two-week-long learning adventure. Our first lunch together was quite quiet. We could tell that the campers were trying to figure this new community out. Even after lunch, they patiently waited in their chairs for the next activity to begin instead of talking amongst each other to get to know one another. Laura came to me with her “What do we do in this situation” face.

We wanted the campers to have fun even during breaks and not mainly wait for structured activities. But how could we get this point across? These were times when our back pocket games came in handy to keep the energy level up, to break the ice, and to let the campers know that we were there not only to learn, but also to have fun! By the third day of camp, campers were hugging each other when greeting each other. Breaks became social times with endless conversations that were rushed to be wrapped up as the next activity was starting. By the end of week one, the presence of “Fihavanana” was truly embodied in every corner of the spaces we occupied, especially when we hiked the waterfall. In our end of camp survey, every single camper affirmed that they had fun and would recommend Camp Fihavanana to a friend, and ⅔ of them said the US Embassy visit and doing sports to be their favorite parts of camp.

Campers mastered their responsibilities - whether that was not forgetting their mouth guards for lacrosse practice, deciding who would get the food from the kitchen for lunch or who would help clean up after lunch, or picking volunteers to help the staff put away sports equipment at the end of the day. We learned through the surveys that over half of the campers were surprised at their ability to reach their goals. They have become agents of change in the Moramanga community by supporting other youth in the community. These campers are now holding lacrosse practice every Saturday morning where seven new Lacrosse players have joined the Camp Fihavanana Lacrosse Club. Half of our campers highlighted unity and sharing ideas as two of the most important values they received during camp. We hope that this post camp project will open doors for new opportunities for these students as we prepare for Camp 2018.

The Next Guy

A lesson I learned at an early age and one that I will hold on to for life is to “look out for the next guy.” A little over a year ago I had to make a decision whether I was going to pursue further education in the United States or come back home to Madagascar after not seeing my family for five years. Returning home seemed to be the scary decision of the two, yet the burning desire of making an impact in my home country made it feel like it was the right choice.

20170807-DSC00679.jpg

Here I am, a little over a year later: I worked with an amazing team and ran the very first edition of Camp Fihavanana (#CampFi2017). Getting to know these kids has been such a blessing to me in so many ways, and seeing the joy in their eyes during the college visit at ISCAM, Antananarivo (Institut Supérieur de la Communication, des Affaires et du Management) and a tour of the U.S. Embassy is an image I will never forget.

At ISCAM, they learned more about their personality types and majors that peaked their interests. I was greatly encouraged by their testimonies when they were asked how they felt about the visit and what they had learned.

The U.S. Embassy tour was very informative and opened the students’ eyes in unbelievable ways. USAID’s presentation on their work in Madagascar and the opportunities they offer in helping people encouraged the campers to think of possible projects that would benefit their communities.

20170807-DSC00693.jpg

I am extremely happy that these 30 amazing teenagers had this opportunity. Their reports from this experience make me believe that they received the push they needed to go further than they had imagined. Allowing them to expand their horizons to a more hopeful future. Today, I feel like I am definitely in the right path in making a positive impact within my community by assisting these students through “Creating Opportunity” and “looking out for the next guy.”

Above and Beyond

As Camp Fihavanana 2017 came to an end, staff members and students created presentations to show the different activities they participated in throughout the two weeks to their family members. Our goal was to empower these students by giving them tasks that would develop their leadership skills, and I am confident that these students are highly qualified to overcome challenges that otherwise could hinder their education. They took advantage of this opportunity through their participations, which shows that they are passionate and want to make a difference.

We encouraged them to not settle with their circumstances or allow cultural expectations to determine their future. Coming from a low income family, myself, was a challenge growing up, and I was unable to participate in summer camps. Joining Camp Fihavanana as a camp counselor with no experience was nerve-wrecking but it was worth it. I was able to contribute to this camp by developing strong relationships with the students and encouraging them to go outside their comfort zone. I feel challenged outside my comfort zone, and I see how that has stopped me from taking advantage of different opportunities in the past. At camp, I pushed the quiet students to share their opinion because I know that they have something valuable to add, even if they don’t have the confidence to share it out loud. My goal was to empower them and make them see their potential.

The majority of our campers came from poor families. Many of them have a difficult time getting access to programs that can assist them in continuing their education. This has a negative outcome; it stops them from believing that they can contribute to their community to solve issues such as poverty, gender inequality, and corruption. At camp, we strived to change the mindset that relying on others is the only way to fix current issues. 

During camp, the campers created projects that hope to find different methods and solutions to eliminate these social issues. That is what Camp Fihavanana represents - a community of young individuals that have the desire to work on making their country a better place without having to settle.

Setting Goals and Overcoming Obstacles

Camp Fihavanana involves a group of individuals who have a strong desire to make a difference within their community. The students are exposed to different activities that challenge them to work together as a team. Our recent goal was to complete a four hour hike! This incredible adventure gave us the opportunity to encourage one another. Students looked after each other and no one was left behind. Walking through the slippery mud was a struggle and many of us slipped, but we got back up and continued our journey. Reaching our destination filled us with joy and a strong sense of accomplishment. The purpose was to show the campers that with time and effort it is possible to reach your destination.

There are lots of obstacles that these students must overcome in order to pursue the education that they need to reach their future career. Sometimes it is difficult to keep a dream alive when you don’t have easy access to the resources that will give you the experience to succeed.  As camp counselors, we want to inspire them to believe in their potential and commit to the tasks given to them. Although many of the campers were tired they kept a positive attitude and didn’t complain. They understood that complaining wouldn’t get them any closer to completing the hike. There were multiple times when I felt that my body was giving up on me and my mind was beginning to doubt whether or not I would reach the top, but these kids stood by my side.

Developing relationships with these students has been an honor. They are respectful, young individuals who show their appreciation by listening, participating and asking questions.  Camp Fihavanana did a great job recruiting them and hopefully they see the value in this organization. Seeing how excited they are to visit the US embassy and a college in Antananarivo reassures me that being a part of this camp wasn’t a mistake. Being the first official camp in Moramanga, puts pressure on Camp Fihavanana. There are different standards and expectations that have been set by the students, parents, and leaders. I am confident that as a community we share a common dream: to prepare these students so that they have the leadership skills necessary to move forward with their education.

Cherries On Top

Before the first day of camp Jessica and I sat down and discussed our goals for Camp Fihavanana. WHAT is the point? Why are we doing this? What do we hope to create for the next two weeks. I have an incredible friend who oversees another camp. He always says, "our goals this week are to be safe and have fun," everything else is a cherry on top. So I said, this is our first time ever running camp. We can't set our sights too high. This could be a disaster, this could flop, lets be careful--let's be safe, let's have fun. 

Jess looked up from her plate, and I could tell behind her eyes she was begging me to say more. We created Camp Fihavanana in 2015 because we wanted young people in her home town to have a good time at summer camp. Yes. AND we created Camp Fihavanana in 2015 because the leadership skills we learned playing sports in the United States have been invaluable to us since. It was through sports we learned perseverance, dedication, failure, resilience, boldness, communication, compromise, teamwork, hope. Especially hope. The belief in the impossible. The belief that things can be different. Just because we lost to that team last time, DOES NOT mean it has to be that way again. We can change things. What is in our control, what is out of our control? Where should we focus our energy? How can we make things different? Asking questions, focusing our energy, being creative when we play--all because we have hope that next time we play things will be different. Especially if we are focused and intentional. 

We carry this mindset into all of our work. This is the mindset Sophie saw fostered at a summer program called Launch through hands on activities, art, and creativity. We created Camp Fihavanana to merge these two means of developing leadership skills in young people. We created it especially for the young people in Jessica's hometown of Moramanaga, Madagascar. Where things like hunger, poverty, and corruption are very normal, and things like higher education and transformation are rare. We created Camp Fihavanana to encourage young people to believe in a different future for their country.

We have been playing sports each morning for a week now, and each afternoon we run activities to push foster teamwork and leadership skills. This Friday afternoon we had a conversation about all of the issues they see around them. They named corruption, greed, deforestation, discrimination, lack of education, sexism, racism, pollution, and power. They shared stories where they've seen these things at work destroying the land, ruining opportunities, and messing up Madagascar. As they left camp to go home that afternoon they each made a commitment to take responsibility for some of these things. They made commitments like picking up trash when it was left on the ground, spreading love, help others, and mentoring younger kids in Moramonga. Commitments to have an open mind, to work with others , and become leaders. These are our cherries on top--cherries on top of a week that was a lot of fun and had just a few scraped knees. And for this I am so grateful. 

Thank you all for following our journey and supporting us on our mission. We have another week of Camp Fihavanana left, and I can't wait to see what magic happens. 

In love and gratitude, 

Laura