Sunday, July 23, 2017

Day 7 - Bye-bye! Keep in Touch!

Our final hours of camp began at midnight while we were still dancing up a storm in the dining hall.  When the music stopped, we dispersed to all sorts of activities that included sports with cellphone flashlights, hanging out, talking, sharing songs and stories, and doing magic tricks around the campfire and in our cabins, playing games, and more.   

Although the campfire burned until sunrise, many of us burned out before then and fell asleep for a few hours.

At our usual breakfast time, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast intended to sustain us through the afternoon as we travel back to Vilnius. 

Yesterday, we’d cast our ballots for the campers we believe are the most sociable, most creative, most improved in their English skills, and most accomplished in other categories. So, this morning’s program began with fun as we congratulated the winners. 

Next up was the “reveal” of our secret friends who provided us with notes and small gifts throughout the week.  It was fun to discover their identities!  Most of us had a difficult time guessing.

Finally, with paper taped to our backs and markers in our hands, we walked around the room and wrote compliments and best wishes for each other.  We will read these after we board the bus – and certainly for years to come as we recall the lessons we learned at Democracy Camp, the friends we made, and the stereotypes and “walls” we broke down. Each of us has enlarged our Universe of Obligation.  We have learned to be upstanders. When we read news or hear comments about Lithuania, Poland, or the USA, we will think first of our friends and the shared humanity and values we treasure and protect.

 Thank you to EVERYONE who made this Democracy Camp possible and who made each of us feel welcomed and valued.  We have laughed. We have cried.  We have learned invaluable lessons and leadership.  It is difficult to pack our luggage and leave our camp friends.

So, let’s not say goodbye, but see you later! 


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Day 6 - Our Society:the Future is in our hands! International organizations

Those of us who are not from Lithuania were surprised this morning to learn that a summer camp tradition here is a sleepless night on the last day of camp when campers can engage in fun and frivolity into the wee hours of the morn before they must say goodbye to each other.  This means that our blog will be extra long today! But, it WILL end at midnight and pick up again tomorrow!

At morning gymnastics, we danced a Polish dance taught by Beatta, a Lithuanian dance taught by Tomas (who also accompanied on bagpipe), and an American line dance, “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” taught by the American students. 

Our morning session started with an introduction to international organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, NATO, and others.  We watched and discussed a video about each of the six organizations to learn their missions and the roles they play in the world.  We also watched a video of Malala’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Next, we created a poster for each organization that reflects its purpose and importance in bettering the world.

We welcomed guests from the US Embassy including Assistant Public Affairs Officer Althea Cawley-Murphree, Public Affairs Intern Sandra Ambotaite, CAPT Joey M. Gonzalez of the 4th Infantry Division Liaison Officer to Lithuania, Vytas Neviera, the Embassy’s Multimedia Assistant, Alicia Nibarger, Public Affairs Intern.  Thanks to Vytas who took photos of all the activities with the Embassy guests.

Althea presented each of us with a certificate for successful completion of the camp and spoke about future opportunities for all of us -- students and teachers -- to apply for internships, study abroad exchanges, Fulbright scholarships, gap year programs, and other programs aimed at developing communities that support democracy, education, and bonds between people and countries. She spoke about how, after spending a week getting to know each other and build friendships, we are a refection of what we hope for our countries, that they will be strong, cooperate with each other, and remain strong friends. Althea also thanked all of us for being campers and in turn, we thanked the Embassy personnel for the opportunity they have given us to participate in Democracy Camp.

Joey and Sandra gave an overview of how they became members of the US military and what jobs they have held. Joey is an active duty officer stationed in Lithuania and attached to the Embassy, and Sandra is a former Lithuanian citizen who immigrated to the US with her family, got citizenship, and joined the army.  Now, she is working on her master’s degree in San Diego and aspires to someday join the Foreign Service.  The focus of their presentation was on leadership and “followership,” how teams work best together.

To give us practice in leadership and in working as teams, they took us outside to a field they had set up with obstacle courses. In small groups, a blindfolded person navigated the course with the help of two people who could not see the course, but could speak, and three persons who could see the course but could not speak.  This was an excellent exercise for us to figure out how to rely on each other and communicate with each other to reach our goal of getting the candy that awaited us at the end of the course.  After this, they held a push-up competition reminded us of the military’s requirement for discipline and physical fitness.  Arturas from Lithuania and Emma from the United States won prizes.  

 The Embassy gave us two-sided flags, so the photos show dozens of American and Lithuanian flags waving in our hands.  We took photos on the beautiful lawn and under clear and sunny skies before saying one last goodbye to the Embassy staff as they departed for Vilnius.

At dinner, we thanked the marvelous kitchen staff and the resort owners for their hospitality and excellent care of us during this week. 

After our final dinner together, we tested our teamwork skills by building “democracy towers” out of magazines and tape.  The challenge, besides building the tallest freestanding tower possible, was to do so without talking after a five minutes planning session.  Using only body language to communicate, we built towers of varying heights, many towers engineered in impressive ways.  The judges awarded the winning team chocolate gold medals. 

As the sun dipped below the horizon, we ran around the camp participating in an orienteering exercise that was organized by Tomas and Simon around each day’s themes. At each stop we had tasks such as riddles to solve, exercises, or other challenges.  As Philippe from Poland stated when he took a quick break between stops, “We’re definitely ending this camp on a high note!”  The winning team was the Ents.

We soon turned the dining hall into a discotheque.  The dance was a lively celebration interrupted by very impressive and creative performances by groups -- and a surprise dance from the tutors who danced to “Uptown Funk” until they pulled many of us onto the dance floor!  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Day 5 - Our Rights and Responsibilities. Freedom of Speech, Media Literacy

Friday was another day of fun and learning, beginning with morning gymnastics outdoors when, after basic stretching, Tomas and Simas introduced us to the fish and net game.  We formed human nets that expanded as we caught the human “fish” and added them to the ever growing net.  We also had the play-off from yesterday’s three Ninja games.  

Laryssa and Ann introduced the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Human Rights of the Child, and then Ann explained the four terms that we will use throughout the rest of the camp when discussing human rights: victim, perpetrator, bystander, and upstander.  In small groups we discussed and sketched our Universe of Obligation. These depicted the groups of people to whom we feel a sense of responsibility, from ourselves to our families, friends, and others in the world. Our discussions included the concept that just a week ago, many of the people in the room would not have been within our Universes of Obligation, but that by meeting and making friends, we have brought them into our circles and would act to defend their human rights. We wondered if every life has equal value and if it does, should everyone, even strangers we will never meet, such as refugees, child laborers in faraway countries, and people often looked down upon by societies, deserve our care?  For whom and when will we be the upstanders to aid victims of oppression, whether they are in our classrooms, neighborhoods, or the larger world community?  We also talked about the idea that even cities and countries have their own Universe of Obligation and that we need to be vigilant about when someone, such as a government, organization, leader, or others try to convince us that some people do not deserve to be within our Universe of Obligation.  When people are excluded from the Universe of Obligation on a mass scale, the groundwork for genocide has been laid.

Next, Marcin provided groups of students with cards that illustrated the probable needs and wants of a teenager and asked students to divide them by importance, and then by which are Needs and which are Wants. After discussing their choices, students presented them to the rest of the group along with their reasoning.  Next, Marcin instructed them to remove a number of cards from the Needs pile and students had to decide which to give up and how their life would change if they were deprived of the ability to meet that Need such as for education, healthcare, decent shelter, or clean water. They discussed 12 questions related to this and talked about who, such as democratic governments, can help ensure that people’s needs are met, concluding that everyone can make a difference by volunteering time, money, and talent to non-profits and others that help communities meet basic human needs.

We took a break for Ultimate Frisbee, Mafia, and football and then welcomed Fulbright scholar and multimedia journalist Živile Raškauskaitė, who spoke about “Our Rights and Responsibilities: The Role of the Media.” She focused on media literacy with an emphasis on fake news.  She provided students with specific strategies for recognizing fake news and described the effects that it has on how we perceive our world.  Again, our speaker was accompanied by employees of the US Embassy, including Cultural Attaché Althea Cawley-Murphree.  Now, we better understand the vital role that a free and independent press plays in a healthy democracy.

After a break for sports, the students lined up by gender to return into the classroom for more activities. However, after the boys entered, they denied the girls access to the classroom, with their male teachers asserting that the girls distracted the boys, did not need an education, and lacked the abilities to be successful students.  Left outside, the girls went from confusion to shock and anger. Some said the boys were being sexist while others began loudly chanting “Let us in” or tried to find an alternate way into the building.  Meanwhile, inside the classroom, Marcin and Saulius tried to convince the boys of their stance, but were met with resistance from the boys, many of whom provided convincing arguments that the girls’ human rights were being violated.  When the girls pounded on the door, the boys insisted that the teachers open it for them and they were met by applause.  Laryssa led the confused and emotional students in a discussion about this exercise and how they felt about it, and then showed a video about Malala, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban simply for going to school. Then, students discussed Malala’s character traits and what needs must be met for children to have access to education. 

Alla extended the theme by providing students with six problem scenarios and asking each group to provide one solution.  This resulted in numerous ideas and helped students recognize the value of considering many alternatives to problems they might face such as bullying, cheating, vandalism and other issues. This reinforced the message that in a democracy each of us has the power to control our lives and the possibility and obligation to make a difference in the lives of our communities. 

It rained lightly tonight, so the usual campfire morphed into a grouping of candles lit in the activity room where students hung out, danced, and played pool.

Teachers noted that, despite the fact that students have access to their phones for only 30 minutes each evening, the campers have not complained and seem fully engaged in the activities and friendships of Democracy Camp. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Day 4 - Our Planet: Ecology Matters! And History, Too!

During our morning gymnastics, we played Ninja in three huge groups until one winner remained in each. 

Today was another special day at camp because Karolina turned 15, so a group of boys lifted her, on a chair, into the air 15 times. The whole camp sang “Happy Birthday” to her in three languages. 

The first thematic activity was listening to the audio only of the YouTube video Man while each student tried to sketch six associations in a storyboard format, guessing at what the visual would be.  After they saw the actual video, which is about how man destroys the environment, they posted their drawings in the room. 

 Activities moved to the tennis courts where students participated in a relay race focused on reduce-reuse-recycle.  The six groups of students had to sort 24 items into the 11 appropriated recycling containers to earn points for correct sorting.  We learned how to sort items such as a light bulb, dried tangerine, phone charger, CDs, and a toilet paper roll.  We also discussed that different towns and countries have different sorting criteria.

Continuing our focus on ecology matters, we watched a video about UNESCO World Heritage sites and put pictures of the sites and locations in chronological order to match the video.  The next step was to play a rousing game of Kahoot using  cellphones. Students had to identify the countries where various UNESCO sites are located. The three winners were Sophie, Troy, and Ola who were awarded chocolate medals. 

After lunch, we boarded buses to Merkinė, an hour ride from camp. Today the town is rather small, but its past is truly glorious. Archeologists say that the first settlements in the region of Merkinė can be dated 9000 years B.C. The town truly flourished in the 9th-16th centuries, when it was granted Magdenburg rights and became a large trading center. It was also one of the most important links in the Nemunas river defensive structure network in the wars against the Teutonic Order.  
Our campers were introduced to a photo treasure hunt and divided into four groups to create photos with three elements (depictions of nature, team members, and fun!).  We climbed approximately 150 steps up the Merkinė Observation Tower, took a walk along the river Nemunas, climbed the Mound of Merkinė, and then visited the town center, and took photos along the way.

One group ventured farther into the woods than the others and extended their 15-minute walk to more than an hour, searching for adventure. Thanks to GPS on their cellphones, good humor, and grit, the party was soon re-united with the larger group and joined their friends for well-deserved ice cream, in Merkinė.

Back at camp, many students took a plunge in the lake to cool down, and then returned to the next activity: viewing and voting on the best photos after each group presented its five best.  After the best photo from each of the four groups was announced, all the students received KinderEggs, which was a tasty and pleasant surprise.

During our evening snacktime, we continued the celebration of Karolina’s birthday by presenting her with a cake topped with candles and with a gift bag full of wishes from campers. 

After dinner, students played football, made a campfire, and played Ultimate Frisbee while the tutors worked on tomorrow’s activities which will focus on “Our Rights and Responsibilities, Freedom of Speech, and Media Literacy.”   

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Day 3 - Our Values: Personal, Social, Global

We began our morning again at 8 a.m. to the sound of bagpipes and knocks on our doors for calisthenics that included yesterday’s “bear fights,” and a round of the “Hokey Pokey,” which was introduced by the American students. 

Today’s theme was “Our Values: Personal, Social, Global.” In our morning session we watched the “Science of Character” and learned how our character is shaped by our families, friends, and community, and in turn, our values affect our families, communities, and even our world.  In groups, we reflected on our own core values and which of those we feel are most important to the group as a whole.

Following that, we moved outside to the glorious sunshine and acted out scenarios that helped us discover our “tolerance limits.”  These included a landlord deciding whether or not to rent a flat to a Muslim refugee/immigrant, or even an elderly person with a hearing disability.  We found that some of our own biases affected our decision-making, and we spent time exploring the reasons behind those biases. 

After a morning of heavy topics, the lake beckoned us to come swim.  We donned our swim trunks and bathing suits and raced to the dock, where the brave jumped right in, and the smart ones waited to test the temperature of the water or stayed ashore.

After lunch we had the pleasure of listening to PhD candidate and former Fulbright scholar, Auste Valinčiūtė, from Vilnius University who discussed science and communication.  We were “treated” to pictures and vivid descriptions of smallpox infections, and learned about the eventual discovery of a smallpox vaccine.  This led to a discussion about why science is so important, and how it paved the way for the development of other vaccines that have ultimately saved millions of lives.

Following the speaker, we wrapped up yesterday’s task of creating a camp symbol, and selecting the finalist through a democratic vote.

And the winner is 

During free time, we played beach volleyball, swam, had a pillow fight, and kicked around the football before engaging in activities about careers and participating in a raucous but thought-provoking Forum Theater.

At the fireside, we brewed strawberry tea, learned a hand-pushing game, and played Ninja.  All in all, today was another great day at Democracy Camp!