This July, I agreed to get involved with a VIDES UK Formation camp in Bootle, Liverpool. It was the third year that VIDES had been in Bootle, so people mostly knew what to expect – but having never done a VIDES camp before, I didn’t know what to expect but I was very excited!
I always find it difficult to explain the Salesians to people in a concise way that doesn’t receive a glazed look, but puts across the right level of excitement! I find talking about camp exactly the same. For a start, most of my friends and family assumed that I was actually camping and it was similar to a Scout Camp type thing. But no, we weren’t outside in tent, but I was sleeping on a community hall floor (imagine your old school hall, like that) and being the forgetful little miss that I am, I didn’t have an airbed, so I actually was on the floor! By the end of a long day, you would be able to sleep anywhere!
The easiest way to describe camp is more of a youth week / out of school activities. But that description doesn’t give it justice! The vast amount of preparation and hard work that goes in from all the volunteers to make it more than any old holiday scheme really pays off! It’s very much a Salesian camp, and I felt at home there straight away, having no real experience in such full on work. A ‘normal’ day would start with a get up at 7:15 followed by breakfast and volunteer formation. My only experience of formation has been on BOVA training weekends, so to have daily formation during the volunteering was amazing. It was great to be able to share, reflect and grow together as volunteers. Sr. Linda led the formation and I think she enjoyed watching us make fools of ourselves in some of the activities. But that’s what my experience of Salesian volunteering is all about – you have to be prepared to make a fool of yourself to make situations more comfortable for young people to get involved in and even for fellow volunteers.
After formation came the arrival of the juniors. We had the juniors from 10am – 2:30pm, and they were aged between 7 and 11. It was always a crazy start to the day, keeping between 20 and 50 kids animated while everyone was registered. I think all the volunteers lost their voices at some point during the week, but our version of The Princess Pat is well worth it! The day began with a Salesian Good Morning, a thought for the day that would link in with the theme. It’s these small thoughts and little bits that make camp more than a youth week, but a Salesian camp.
This year VIDES tried something new having activity zones which corresponded to the theme for the week which was, ‘We Are The World’. I was very impressed and thankful that we managed to get through the entire week without using USA Africa’s we are the world! I was working on the India activity zone with the 10 and 11 year olds. The other activity zone was Mexico for the younger children. We had some fantastic activities and ideas for our India group. Although we had the older children, it became quickly apparent that their attention span was near enough non-existent! So we had to keep then entertained and animated constantly. We decided as a group of volunteers to teach the children a little bit of language each day. We chose Hindi as it is one of the most widely spoken of the Indian languages. I think the kids picked it up a lot better and a lot quicker than me! It was great to see them get so involved and excited. I think one of our most successful activities over the week with the juniors was dressing up as Hindu Gods and Goddesses. We gave them a short introduction to some of the different Gods and Goddesses there are, and armed with black bin bags, sequins, feathers and whatever else we could find lying around they created the most magnificent costumes and paraded them around for the other children and volunteers on camp.
Then it was lunchtime! Always a joy as I was always hungry! Lunch was a great opportunity to talk to the children and have a laugh away from organised activities and get to know the children who aren’t in your activity zone. There were two of the kids who became attached to myself and another of the volunteers. I’ve never experienced my name screeched at such a pitch before. They were lovely kids though, when you managed to separate them!
After lunch, we split off into celebration preparation groups. At the end of camp on the Saturday, we invite the parents and the community in to celebrate the week and the work that the children have been doing. I was working with the Music and Drama group. We decided to make a big stomp group using whatever we could find about the place – spoons, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, cardboard tubes, plastic cups, straws… It worked really well, and some of the kids had a surprisingly good sense of rhythm and beat. The Music and Drama sessions were so chilled, it was great fun. It was decided that the Music and Drama group would write the script for all of the celebration and we decided that as the theme was ‘We Are The World’ to travel around the world – or to the 7 continents at least! We were struggling for anything for Antarctica. I was shocked to see how they responded to the penguin song I decided to teach them. I learnt the penguin song when I was on a HCPT Pilgrimage to Lourdes at Easter. I thought it might be too young for the group and they’d scoff at me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!! They loved it, dressed up as penguin’s curtsey of yet more black bin bags and orange card. It was amazing – definitely a highlight of the week!
(This you tube video doesn’t do justice to the penguin song! We had much more energy, smiles and don’t forget costumes!)
Then it was time to say goodbye to the juniors, rush to the local leisure centre to get a quick shower and prepare for seniors. I must mention the community at this who provided a mountain of home cooked meals for us every day! They sustained very well. So here’s an official Thank you to the community of Bootle!
Seniors arrived at 7pm until 9:15pm. Seniors was always much more relaxed than juniors, less crazy animation more chilling and talking. I say that, but our sports co-ordinators had other ideas… At times it was like basketball boot camp it was so intense! But the young people really appreciated the energy and passion that was put in from the co-ordinators and it’s probably the main reason that football was rarely played throughout the whole week. I sometimes found seniors challenging, simply making a connection with the young people and carrying a conversation could be really difficult. It was easy for me to play sport or table tennis and feel involved and take the easy route. But some of the girls especially didn’t like to play sport the whole time. I remember one evening making friendship bracelets with a group of girls, and we didn’t really talk together. They spoke to each other and I listened, just feeling that I should show my presence. It paid off in the end, the next evening they involved me in the conversation. It’s a different ball game with the seniors; you have to show them that you’re there and that they can trust you.
Seniors ended with a Salesian Goodnight, similar to the Good Morning we did with juniors. Goodnights were more in depth and the young people were more involved, addressing issues such as stereotyping, being different and smoking. The smoking goodnight was interesting, and even had an effect on some of the volunteers who smoked. The volunteers decided to ‘make’ a recipe for a cigarette and mix all the ingredients together in a pot. It had toilet cleaner, tar and ethanol in. It smelt horrid! But had the desired effect, making the young people think and leaving them with a thought.
There’s so much more I can write about camp this year, I missed so much out and probably haven’t done it justice! All I can say is that I enjoyed my week in Bootle so much! I felt so welcomed and wanted and I learnt so much! Roll on next year!!
Megan Russell is a ex-pupil of Thornleigh Salesian College and spent 18 months in Swaziland as a BOVA volunteer. VIDES is an international Salesian project ran by the Salesian Sisters in the UK.