Camp at Soui Cat

This week we held our first 3-day camp at Soui Cat. We found ourselves a bit overwhelmed on the first day – we were expecting 100 kids, but about 300 showed up. However, we powered through a hectic morning and on the following two days organized the children into three groups that rotated through arts projects, music activities, and parachute games.

We started each day with a short concert by our volunteer musicians:

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In the music class, our leaders Rozanne and Laurette taught everyone to clap a set of rhythms. Then we let the children try out the rhythms on drums, triangles, tamborines, and maracas. By the third day, we were able to assign a separate part of the rhythm to each instrument and play them as an ensemble.

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On day one of the art classes, we made layers of colors with crayons, then scraped away the top layer with a toothpick to create pictures.

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On day two, the kids made chalk murals on brown poster-paper.

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On day three, we used an old favorite: pipe cleaners. You can make them into anything, dolls, headbands, rings, or eyeglasses. The kids absolutely love them.

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The children who attend our camps are all ages, from babies too young to walk to teenagers. They are all small for their age. One of our fifteen year old American volunteers will easily be a head taller than a fifteen year old from Soui Cat. The babies come propped on the hips of their older siblings, who might be 7 or 8, and are passed casually from one person to the next so it’s hard to tell which belongs to whom. Parents like to come too. They gather outside the pavilion, sometimes calling in to the children to follow directions or encouraging them to speak to us. When our eyes meet they smile at us, and we smile back, and in their eyes there is something like happiness or gratitude – but of course we can’t know for sure what they are thinking, and we can’t tell them what we are thinking. The only communication we have is a smile.

Most of the kids are shy, but some –a few little boys in particular- can get pretty wild. They gather together in close groups, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, and in such tight quarters they love to instigate fights, pushing and shoving, punching each other in the arm, and tickling. They’ll also run around and steal the girls’ crayons, chalk, or pipecleaners, and try to mess up their artwork. They’re like little devils; it can be frustrating trying to keep them in line, especially with two language barriers to cross (Vietnamese is their second language). Luckily, we are well staffed with students and teachers from our Cam Duc programs, who can give them a scolding and generally keep things organized.

At one point, I picked up one of the boys to move him away from his friends, and he felt so weightless in my hands it surprised me. They are all so small, but somehow it seems a person who is so disruptive should feel heavier. I expected some kind of resistance. But he nearly floated in my hands, and went absolutely willingly, as though he knew perfectly well how small and defenseless he was.

A few of the girls will do a little pushing and shoving themselves, but most are too shy. They hide from cameras and turn their faces away when you speak to them. Their smiles are slow and bashful. But they are quick to learn and make an effort to be helpful, collecting the instruments and art supplies when it’s time. The older ones will correct any young children acting out around them and are a little braver -they smile more quickly and openly.

At the end of each day, we lined the kids up and hand out snacks and sandwiches for them to take home.

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My pictures today are the work of Wesley LaPointe and Rich Ferri. Thank you Wesley and Rich!

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