The Words of the Sayre Family
Natoria, a slender and pretty, somewhat quiet girl of thirteen years, was nearly always waiting at the school almost an hour before it was time for the first session of our day camp to begin. She sat at a picnic table under the colorful mural at Vide Bouteille School. We had come by bus to set up the sound system and a projector, and to prepare our last day of camp. The rest of the camp staff would arrive by car.
Without anyone asking her, Natoria set about doing a thorough cleaning of the desk at the front of the room. Then she began wiping down every chair in the room. Natoria's desire to serve the camp in this way confirmed to us that our week of character education summer day camp had made an impression on at least one student.
On Thursday, we had not just talked about taking responsibility but had given everyone the experience of finding their true value in serving others. One team of students cleaned and painted the chalkboards, while another team cleaned and swept classrooms, and still another two teams were armed with garbage bags in order to pick up litter around the school and the neighborhood. The teams working outside the school experienced ridicule from some folks on the street but happily kept singing and working until their bags were full.
The Vide Bouteille School is in Castries, capital city of the beautiful island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Remy and Chyoko Taupier, UPF leaders in St. Lucia, organized a five-day summer day camp that ran from July 23-27.
The camp was jointly sponsored by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Universal Peace Federation. Besides Gina Standard, Kuna Hamad, Kenny Wolfenberger, the Taupiers, and myself, the team of teachers and counselors included Lisa Degoede from Seattle, Yoshiko Go and Chika Sanzen from Japan, and Dwight Augustin from St. Lucia.
The name of our camp was "Fighting HIV/AIDS through Character Education", and the message was geared for students from twelve to eighteen years of age. There were forty students in this first camp of the summer. The day began at 9:00 a.m. and finished every day at 3:30, usually with a pick-up game of volleyball or soccer.
The lessons and discussions took place all day, whether we were formally teaching from the UPF curriculum, Discovering the Real Me, making greeting cards in a craft class, or enjoying a lunch of salt-fish with rice and lentils. In all our sharing, we tried very hard to convey to each child that he or she is a person of true value who deserves to be treated with respect and true love.
Our clear message was that abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage are the way to stop the spread of HIV. The sad reality is that the Caribbean islands have an extraordinarily high rate of HIV infection as well as an extremely high number of single-parent homes, mostly headed by women, many of whom first gave birth as unwed teens.
The Taupiers and their staff conducted camps in two other schools. As coordinator of the UPF summer internships abroad for college students, I flew with Gina to St. Vincent, a neighboring island, where we were met by Abner Richards, director for a five-day camp held in Barrouallie from July 30 - August 3 at the Barrouallie Multi-Purpose Academy. This is a secondary school for students who want to learn trades.
This was the first camp of its kind for St. Vincent. The schedule, activities, and lessons were along the same model as the camps in St. Lucia. Students ranged in age from twelve to eighteen. Mrs. Kyoto Kuramoto, Chairwoman for Women's Federation for World Peace in the Caribbean, taught crafts; Mrs. Cenac and I taught drama; and Mr. Piere, from the school, ran the sports activities.
We were joined by Dwight Augustin, Dannel Chassang, and Arlette Cenac, all from St. Lucia. Mrs. Cenac is a retired school principal and an Ambassador for Peace who is committed to bringing character education to the youth of the Caribbean. Dwight and Dannel are trained Christian counselors who work in public schools throughout the year teaching the abstinence message in "Family Life Education" classes. The five of us became the support staff for the teachers and counselors from St. Vincent who were trained by Mr. Alan Saunders.
It was a busy week that included a national holiday. August 1 is Emancipation Day, commemorating the emancipation of the slaves in 1834. It is a day for family picnics when all workplaces and stores are closed. We had almost full attendance that day, and we organized into teams to clean the school. Mr. Crease, the principal, was especially happy to see his school thoroughly cleaned!
The House of Hope, a local HIV/AIDS charity, sponsored a visit to St. Vincent by the WAIT Team (Washington AIDS International Teens). They brought their music, dance, and drama to our camp. They are recruiting and training a St. Vincent team. One of our campers, "Biggie" (Glenroy John), performed and sang the song that won him an award in the island's 2006 HIV/AIDS songwriting contest.
I feel great wonder at the transforming effect a five-day experience can bring about. The fact that we achieved such a feeling of oneness and joy over the course of such a short time gives great hope for what can be accomplished through on-going programs.`