Though we are very aware of how behind we are on the timeline of reports, the Senhoa Summer Camp was much too significant to give only a brief mention in this blog. So, hold on tight as we relay to you the magic that happened between the dates of 15th and 18th of the month of August.
It began as a fun way to keep the girls engaged during their school holidays and a way to wrap up our delightfully successful pilot program; sleepovers, games, arts and crafts… Easy-Peasy. But as we flitted in and out of the shelter and learnt more about the girls, our vision for the camp evolved. There was a need. There was a lack of connection between the residents of the shelter. Although it was teeming with unconditional love and the best of intentions, our partner shelter was missing something- a sense of togetherness.
The Shelter Manager was wholeheartedly enthused about the camp and ran just as hard as we did with our ideas. He handed over his staff to us and permitted us to organize them how we saw fit. Suddenly, we were heading a team of 10 staff members and had 22 girls in our charge. I felt like we had been propped in front of a symphony orchestra with the conductor’s baton shoved into our hands. Which, of course, we gripped and happily accepted!
The camp was a runaway success. No one could believe how well the girls had responded to our foreign mannerisms, the ‘strange’ games, our playful antics, and the discipline enforced. The ideology behind the camp was to provide a 3-day marathon of fun within a structured framework where the girls were held accountable for their own behavior and actions, but still had the freedom to express and play and bond with each other. Everyone understood (or at least tried to understand) the expectancy of full participation, punctuality and most importantly, GETTING ALONG. That was probably the biggest challenge: conflict resolution. The girls were completely unused to the idea of friendly competition and team work. Having grown up in an unstructured environment where betrayals and malevolence prevailed, the girls had trust issues with each other, causing fights and disputes over trivial matters. The girls were demanding to change teams every which way, thinking that would solve the conflict. But we held strong. The teams we put them in were the teams they were to stay in. And you know what? They did! By the end of the camp we asked the girls to finish the camp with a team cheer. The team that had the most difficulty all held hands, jumped in the air and cheered ‘WE ARE BEST FRIENDS!!’
‘Wow! How did it get to that point?’ we hear you enquire. This was miraculously achieved with a simple ensemble of:
1. Flag making: the girls designed a flag that represented them as a team ;
2.Team building exercises: Nhie twuh bhan tay!! (You can do it!);
Retrieving the cure to all diseases from the volcano pit.
The girls all found 6 different ways!
3. A fashion show: a celebration of image versatility (the girls got crazy with second-hand market clothes, hairspray and BRIGHT make up) and individuality;
Getting ready for the epic 'Walk Off'
Ridiculous oversized clothes, make-up and a bit of imagination= laughs for a lifetime!
4. And finally, a Talent Show!
The Talent Show was the highlight of the camp (amongst many other highlights). When we set the timeslot for a talent show, we were picturing the girls getting together and imitating Korean Pop-Stars, making up dances, or skits with Cambodian humor. So you can imagine our stunned amazement when the girls performed how they were trafficked. It was then that we realized that they had not yet properly expressed what had happened to them in the past…and they saw this ‘talent show’ as the perfect opportunity to finally expel the feelings that had been trapped within for so long. One girl, Srey, stood in front of the whole shelter and sung a song she had written about her past. Solo. Her voice wavered and her face strained. Tears flowed down her face and she nearly stopped singing. But the girls in the audience cheered her on and Srey finished her song. Wailing. Then one by one, the girls who shared Srey’s story, tears, pain and sorrow, stood up and joined her on stage and engaged in the first group hug in the history of the shelter .
We love our jobs!
Shelter and Senhoa staff sharing a swing
With Hugs and Kisses from The Field