Saturday, May 17, 2014

Brighter Thailand Foundation Youth Leadership Camp in Chaiyaphum

One of the best projects Zack and I teamed up on over the school break (and have worked on since arriving in Thailand) was hosting a Brighter Thailand Foundation youth leadership camp at our site in Chaiyaphum. After months of planning and adjusting said plans, the camp finally became a reality.

A team-building activity during
one of our "pre-camp meetings"

One of the most difficult parts of organizing the camp was finding and encouraging youth involvement. In the months leading up to the camp, Zack and I worked with the community development officer to try to arrange several meetings to get the youth in our community engaged and interested in the idea. The community development officer tried to get the word out through the Puu Yai Baans (the elected leaders from each village in our community) by having them nominate the students for the community youth council. The youth council would then take part in the leadership camp. Unfortunately, that method only produced a handful of students.

As a last resort, Zack ended up convincing several of the boys with whom he works with regularly through the school band to join the camp. We were personally very happy with this approach because it gave the opportunity for growth to students in our community who are not typically though of as "leaders." Typically, whenever there is an event in our community only the "best" and "brightest" students are invited. Oftentimes, this leads to the exact same students participating in every single event. It was refreshing to switch it up a little bit.

Playing "Ninja"

The site of the almost week-long camp was an abandoned forest wat that is often used to host events and trainings. For the first two days, Zack and I plus four other Peace Corps volunteers, two global ambassadors (Americans who were not PCVs), one Thai ambassador (a Khon Kaen University student), and the BTF program coordinator worked directly with the eight youth counselors from our community to promote leadership skills and prepare them to lead activities with younger students. After the two days of training, the younger "campers" arrived. It was so encouraging to see our youth counselors embrace the roles of leaders and have such a positive impact on the younger students.

Human Knot

Toxic River

Even though there were some rough patches (poor Zack had to leave several times because of a pretty terrible infection on his leg), we worked through it together and everyone came out of the experience having learned something. We were reassured of the effectiveness of the camp when one of our youth counselors helped coordinate a bike event with our community development officer by gathering and organizing youth participants in her village. The same eight participants from the BTF camp also came over to our house the weekend following the camp just to talk and hang out. Some of them have been back multiple times since then.

It's all very encouraging, and Zack and I are hopeful that we will be able to continue working with this group of youth leaders to help facilitate more community service-based, service learning projects here in our village. There has also been talk of hosting another BTF camp in the future that will take place in our community and will promote leadership through service learning. We're excited about this prospect and plan to continue working towards this goal throughout the remainder of our time here.

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