Sunday, July 23, 2006

Multi-ethnic Youth Camp

On friday, I returned to pernik from a wonderful week at the beach! I spent 8 days working with multi-ethnic youth from across bulgaria on the lovely Black Sea.

Though this camp was not the first multi-ethnic camp in Bulgaria (it was the second), it hold promise for one that will continue as long as there is interest from the youth. The camp was organized by an NGO that works with Roma youth in the city of Pazardjik. This NGO also hosts a Peace Corps Volunteer, and together they planned the camp "Zaedno Napred" (Forward together). This NGO has organized summer camps on the Sea for active and motivated Roma youth for the past 5 years, and after 5 years of success, the director was able to realize his dream of holding a multi-ethnic youth camp.

There were 5 ethnic groups represented at the camp; Bulgarians, Bulgarian Muslims, Turkish, Roma, and Jewish. Each ethnic group had atleast 5 open-mided, motivated and exhuberant representatives. during the day, the campers participated in different team building activities, fun games, and lectures on topics related to different ethnic groups. Nearly every afternoon we managed to squeeze in a little time for the beach, time to walk around the center, or just hang out with new friends.

One of the coolest things that happened during the camp were nightly presentations of each groups culture. each group chose rituals, ceremonies, holidays, music and dances that represented the most important (or most basic) aspects of their culture, and presented these for the entire group. Each and every person present was engaged by these presentations, and everyone learned something new about the different groups- even from the groups (like the roma) that that other campers felt there were already familiar with.

going into this camp, we were all a bit worried that the youth might fight with each other, not want to talk to eachother, not respect eachother and their cultures, and that they might demand to go home. Cultural differences and intolerance in bulgaria can run high. but we were nothing but suprised, pleased and impressed with the group of youth that participated in this camp. By the time camp had finished and the bus pulled up to take the students away, their were tears, promises of emails, and exhanges of cell phone numbers.

I have participated in many different types of camps before, but this one was by far the best! we had our fair share of misommunications, troubles, etc...but the youth were some of the best that I have encoutnered in both the US and Bulgaria.

I've got to run (time's running out at the internet cafe!) but I promise to post pictures soon!!


At 3:25 AM, Anonymous angeline said...

that is so awesome! after hearing about the conflicts in israel and lebanon (and other places as well), it is really nice to hear stories of youth overcoming prejudices and being able to appreciate each other. keep being awesome, toni!


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