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29/04/15 Issues

You say I'm a dreamer and I'm not alone

The Dream Outdoor experiential camps are 4-days of an intense transformative experience for young people, volunteers and facilitators alike. Through activities such as trekking, camping, outbound activities, workshops and arts, the young people develop life skills such as problem solving, decision making, choice-making, team-skills and leadership.

My first experience as a lead facilitator involved 26 children, 1 teacher, 8 volunteers and I came away with certain fundamental truths. 

Start the camp with a bang and consider your job half done

Our over enthusiastic welcome song of  ‘Camp ge Camp ge Camp ge bandu maja maadona’ (sung to the tune of Suraangni) accompanied by a dhol and wedding-like rituals (showering them with flower petals and applying colour) struck the right chord with children and volunteers alike. We gave it all we had and that set the right tone for days ahead.

Trust the process. And let the magic unfold

I feared leading a camp despite the comforting factor of a co-lead. I could not deny the fact that I was a perfectionist. But I always made a conscious effort to let go.

The first 1 1/2 days were an absolute struggle because I was trying to control my variables – with my co-lead, volunteers and of course, the young people. I was waiting to witness magic and nothing happened. And from nowhere, at the end of Day 2, the children started asking questions profound. The skeptic in me cautioned that they were trying to be smart but those questions came from deep reflection. The churning had begun. And that’s when I started seeing the process at work through each activity and its purpose – it was designed to create space for not just the children but the facilitators too. And I just had to do my thing. And let the magic unfold.

We hate to be told what to do. We like to be asked what we want to do. Always.

Something I learnt early on during the camp and this one came from adult volunteers (including the participating teacher). I was expecting volunteers to be eager to take on responsibilities but I had to prepare myself for wake up/breakfast calls. When the teacher went missing on Day 2, we made efforts to have an honest conversation about how his presence made a difference to kids. But he chose to stay away through those 4 days. Did children, therefore, not have an equal (or more than equal) right to choose what they liked to do?

What an oppressive societal system can do, a little extra love without judgement can undo

We started with 14 year old boys who refused to calm down, abused at the drop of a hat and bullied their peers as their only way of claiming ownership over something. It wasn’t their fault – they were just reflecting the oppressive system they were subject to. How else would you explain their softening, dropping their guards and exposing their vulnerability when all they were subject to was a little extra love and no judgment? I still fear the undoing by the system but I’ve already tasted the possibility of something better.

A bully is a bully because he’s caught in the cycle of bullying

I always had a soft corner for bullies and I could not explain why. So it was a huge gamble when the volunteers put together a community skit about the bully – it could backfire and I cringed as I saw him hide behind his buddy. I realised only later that the skit triggered off something beautiful – he broke down during ‘Appreciation Circle’ when his classmates appreciated him for his leadership qualities. In my one-on-one chat with him, he explained how he was subject to bullying back home and he beats up people who pick up a fight with him. He hates it when he gets angry but it gets difficult for him to control. He wept like a little child not wanting to leave the environment he’s grown to like so much – of freedom to do, learn and share.

Young people don’t need to be told ‘moral of the story’

A moral at the end of the story kills the aptitude to enquire, to make one’s own interpretations and to have multiple takeaways. I was sharing the story of how an elephant that’s captured young is conditioned to resign to be chained even after it grows older and stronger. You can imagine my delight when the young boys started explaining about how negative voices in us can get overwhelming and we have to pause to give those unheard positive voices a chance.

Honest communication without words lessens the gap between ‘I’ and ‘Them’

I was fascinated every time the Na’vi’s (in Avatar) said ‘I see you’ to suggest that ‘We are all connected’. I also added an aside to myself every time that this is quite an impossible phenomenon amongst us in the real world. But I experienced the power of connecting without words (eye contact, a faint smile and genuine curiosity to understand them – and no…don’t reduce it to a formula) with boys who spoke not too much but were clearly processing every little interaction we had. One such moment was when one of the boys (who hardly spoke) finished his dinner and joyously took on the task of serving breakfast to his mates.

Discipline breeds fear. Fear breeds resistance. And resistance breeds mediocrity

It was disheartening to see children withdraw into a subservient state every time they were in the company of their principal. It felt like they had to shed the garb of resistance every time they had to wholeheartedly participate in creative arts. But when they did, they did not see the constraint of resources…they saw possibilities – whether it was using sand as clay or torches as fancy lighting for a performance.

Genuine love and sharing can be contagious too

Love and all those positive ‘stuff’ may seem like they do not stand a chance against the vociferous aggression. But give it some time and nurture and you’ll soon be overwhelmed by its virality. By the end of Day 3 when the boys experienced what it was to lead and support each other to make workshops happen, an impromptu kai thuttu (hand feeding in Kannada) to their friends and family group members was an inevitable consequence. And you could see that it was their way of expressing love to each other.

There’s no need for improvement. There’s only a need to unearth the good ‘ol goodness in this world

As we progressed from the uncertain Day 1 to a transformed Day 4, I was struck by a simple truth. That we did not have to push for the agenda of change. Goodness is in abundance but it is corrupted by expectations, conditioning and mis-defined success.

At the end of it all, as we bid goodbye to young boys who howled with mixed feelings (happy for having a fabulous 4 days and sad/afraid of going back to the routine), I was left with one niggling question – “Can one transformative experience be enough to change the course of life?” This one question continues to nag me with varying volume levels. Four days of camp may open up new possibilities but is that one transformative experience enough to change? The intuitive me says yes – because I had my moment too when questioned the way I approached life. With new possibilities, I guess it is no longer possible to hide the real us and our real dreams!

By Padmaja Naganur