Tasked with running a youth camp for a week, each of the 5 members of our CBT had to figure out what we are capable of doing with kids to keep them entertained for an hour or two. One of us chose to teach Spanish and do a theater class, one of us chose to teach English and a dance class, one of us taught Chinese, my wife taught yoga class, and I taught a fitness class and ran a ping pong tournament. Originally camp was to run for 5 days, 4-5 hours each day, however miscellaneous Peace Corps meetings and needs interfered and the camp was made slightly shorter. The mural painting and community hike had to be canceled, unfortunately. Actually, as this place is regularly rainy and damp, the mural painting may not have worked out as desired (it’s hard to find a wall that stays dry long enough to paint it).
My wife and I taught our classes at the same time on the first morning. She started with girl’s yoga and I with boy’s fitness. After about an hour of this we switched and she taught boy’s yoga while I taught girl’s fitness. We had both expected to be able to show brief demonstrations and then observe the class and slightly “take it easy” while helping individuals get the right pose or form. We couldn’t have been more wrong! The education system here is one of rote memorization. The kids are used to copying what the teacher does, almost exactly. This means that for each pose, activity, or exercise the kids copied our every move. This means that if I scratched my head or clapped, the whole class was probably going to scratch their heads or clap also. After two long hours of fitness and yoga, my wife and I rejoined each other to head home for lunch. We were both tired (and sore in my case… lunges might’ve been a bad idea) but appreciative of our own efforts and those of the students.
The next day brought one of our CBT mate’s dance class. We discovered at the last minute that we would not have the 7-10 students that we had been expecting, but instead something closer to 30-40. We helped our friend with the class to try to ease the difficulty of the class size. This turned out not to help as much as we had expected, since few of the kids seemed actually interested in dancing. Most sat in chairs around the walls of the classroom on their phones, talking to friends, or just staring at us. The initial plan was to teach the class a dance (the cha cha slide), which would be performed at the “spectac” at the end of the week (see spectac post). As this plan fell apart before our eyes, we wondered how to rescue the class from the chaos that was quickly descending upon it.
We tried other songs, but none worked well enough to hold attention or encourage dancing. We made other attempts, including a modified chicken dance with singing (a song I’d never heard of before). This got distinctly more difficult after the first verse when we didn’t really have a second verse and awkward silence seemed imminent. I felt like I was saving the day when I came up with a ridiculous next verse with appropriate hand motions. The other PCT’s kind of laughed, but the kids definitely saw no humor.
Finally, in an act of desperation, we went for musical chairs. Getting the rules across was difficult enough, but then there came the actual game. The kids didn’t understand that they were supposed to calmly walk around the chairs. What happened instead was everyone running at their own speed around the chairs with noise loud enough to drown out the music. They were 3 to 4 wide at every turn, and it was a miracle there wasn’t a major accident. After several more attempts we realized that there was no way to get everyone to just walk. Things started getting slightly simpler (we thought) after a few rounds, a several fewer chairs, and a few people losing. The next problem we encountered was that the kids, having been unable to hear the music, would just all grab a chair and sit down as soon as they deemed it appropriate (the time they were not sitting became shorter and shorter with every round). Finally there was a group that was small enough that we could keep track of the individuals playing… and we realized that several were cheating. I would never have thought to cheat in a game of musical chairs, but so it goes. When there were only two players remaining, it became more of a standoff than a game. Each kid would jockey to stand in the position closest to being able to immediately sit down and would grab the back of the final chair to turn it to their advantage. We tried enforcing a “hands in the air” rule to fix this issue, but both kids immediately continued to grab the back of the chair. I wasn’t playing, but I might as well have called myself the winner.
Finally the class came to a much appreciated end… and it was time for the ping pong tournament! My wife came to my assistance and started the bracket while I put things into place and tried to regain some semblance of order (the tournament was to be in the same room as the dance class). Amazingly, having kids come to the table to write their names in one of the bracket slots brought some calm to the room. Once all names were written, the games began. It’s been years (lots of years, maybe 2 decades worth) since I last played pong pong so I had read up on scoring and the rules several nights before. I quickly discovered that I was in slightly over my head. These kids didn’t quite follow “official” ping pong rules (I feel like I should’ve seen that coming) and played fast enough to keep me on my toes with scoring. My wife keeping track of writing the winners and losers on the bracket was a life saver, there was no way I could’ve managed it all on my own! Some players were small enough that they barely reached the table, while others were in their 30s. By the semi-final game a solid cheering section had developed and was loud enough to deafen. I’ll call it a success!