Friday, December 9, 2011

Madonna was Right: XPRESS Yo'self

There's nothing better than standing in a room full of individuals so bright they could light a fire. They're ready to take on the world and change the injustices they see - even when it means they must also improve themselves. I got the chance to work with forty-five such individuals at XPRESS Camp, a GYD-led initiative and the first of its kind, with Kimmy Smith in Wa. The purpose of the camp was to encourage leadership and volunteerism within the youth, while fostering self-expression through art. You can probably guess that last bit was my favorite part: I was all "ART ART ART!!!" all week (and we even threw in some theatre and song & dance); basically I was in Emma Heaven.

Because the first day coincided with World Aids Day, after crafts and icebreakers were over, Kevin Lenihan and I took the opportunity to share the stories of our uncles with the kiddos. By doing this, we were able to discuss stigma and life with HIV, after which, we were met with a rather interesting Q and A. The questions were interesting (and thorough), so I think it was a hit ... then again, I always say that :)

Over the next four days, we did an array of things - 'inner expression' masks, social problem brainstorms with coinciding skits, discussion of career development and leadership, a talent show (during which, PCVs preformed 'The Thriller'), and poster creations to encourage community volunteerism on a small scale. We culminated all of this in a public trash pick up in the Wa Market on market day. It was interesting, to say the least. Aside from the 'normal' kind of harassment that comes with picking up trash, I think the students found it hard to deal with accusations of reimbursement for work that was obviously voluntary. It was a common agreement we were all able to share and might have changed the way some of them saw the PCV leaders.

Despite a few hardships, I think most (if not all) students came away having learned a great deal. They made friends and opened up; they learned the value of respecting each other and the value of teamwork in projects big and small; they even got to use REAL flush-toilets. I think, in the very least, we taught them to be louder about their cause (ie. 'Hey! Don't drop that there: use a rubbish bin!" or "Hey! HIV is serious and stigma isn't something to laugh at!") which is always good when applied in the right way. 'Occupy Wall Street' would be so proud ... We also came to the conclusion that this model had to be repeated - you wouldn't believe the feeling of inspiration being thrown around by everyone; it was the perfect storm.

After being involved in such a thing, I can see why teachers do what they do - the potential of one young person (let alone forty-five) is enough to invest in thousands. And thank goodness these students have volunteers in their communities - it was amazing to see how good a positive role model could be in just a few days. Makes me proud to do what we do.

With the vision of a prophet, Kimmy (just call her Mohammed) organized our closing ceremony on International Volunteerism Day; five schools in the Wa district were invited to join in our festivities (and what's more, they all showed up!!) Three brilliant student speeches later (and a lot of certificates) we were finished without any serious hitches. Will Smith got to stay in his box.

Now that we're all back at our respective sites, planning has commenced for at least three more regional camps. I speak entirely for myself, of course, when I say that I've been channeling some serious artsy vibes, as well (which manifest themselves in Christmas decorations, if you must know). Personally, I'm as proud of us as I'm surprised that Christmas is a mere two weeks away (which is a lot). I can't wait to hold my own XPRESS camp in the Upper East! Nothing in the world sounds better to me than encouraging leadership and volunteerism at the same time as creative expression. Seriously. The only thing that could be better is another performance of The Thriller. Which is bound to happen some time.

Any way, I think we can finally change that old saying about shooting for the moon ... something like: "With so much potential in that sky, forget about the moon! Go catch some shinies!"

Whatever, mine's way better ... :)