My sisters Jill and Chelsea have been encouraging me to join the Union Church of Manila Kids’ Camp for a while now and I thought it would be a great idea to see first hand what they have been saying about it since Sophie would soon be joining them, so I agreed.
For the first time ever, I volunteered to serve as Camp Parent and Assistant Camp Counselor and was bracing myself for all that those titles entailed. Chelsea briefed me on the programs and some of the things that I could expect, as well as the responsibilities that were to be assigned to me, a few days before we left. But as with anything in life, nothing could have completely prepared me for the 4 days that we spent at the camp, from March 31 to April 3.
We welcomed the kids (who were excited) and met their parents who dropped them off (who looked more anxious than their kids), and assured them that their precious ones will be in good hands all throughout the camp. We headed to Tagaytay Mission Camp and Conference Center, which we called home for those 4 days, on 2 buses carrying 85 children and 20+ adults, loads of bags, and I later learned, brooms (apparently, veteran campers took the Cleanest Cabin Competition VERY seriously – if only I’d known).
I was paired with the lovely Judith Prasad-Smith to be Camp Parents to the youngest girls in the group (to which Polly, Jude’s daughter, and Sophie belonged), and I am so grateful that we got along really well and made a pretty good team. We were both first-time camp volunteers and had to rely on our motherly instincts and razor sharp wits to lead and care for our troop. And while we hit a few speed bumps along the way (that first day of cabin inspection – ouch! – and getting the kids to eat vegetables and finish their food in under 1 hour – more challenging than we thought possible) we learned the ropes pretty quickly, if I do say so myself. wink emoticon I can honestly say that we will forever have that shared experience to bind us for life, haha!
The theme for this year’s camp was Faith at Work, and the Bible study sessions, memory verses and activities all centered around the theme. The catchy and awesome camp song, ‘I Have Faith’, was written by Teacher Jun Ison, and brought to life through actions by my über-talented co-camp parent Jude, who also taught the Ribbon Dance to the girls. Meanwhile, the boys learned the Flag Dance from Teacher Ane Palaruan. The kids also enjoyed their coloring activities facilitated by Teacher Sharon Germaine, and the floor ball games led by Teacher Jyanne Palaruan.
On our first afternoon, the children enjoyed playing outdoor team games such as Catch the Flying Balls, Boat Hauling, De-stressing, Harvest Relay, Holey Job and Walk by Faith, Not by Sight. I had the pleasure of serving as Assistant Camp Counselor to Teacher Therese Jose for the Red Team, a group of bright, generous and friendly kids.
For me, the highlights of the camp were:
– when we all went to do outreach work at 2nd Mile where the UCM campers got to meet, fellowship and play with disadvantaged kids. It was amazing to watch the children just helping each other make their boka boka kites and then proceed to fly them, language barriers notwithstanding, and having the time of their lives. What’s more, a lot of the children decided to give their lives to Christ after hearing the message delivered by Teacher Totie Andes.
– the campfire on our final night at camp where we all sat around the fire singing songs and listening to Uncle Daryl tell a moving story about a time in his childhood where his faith in God played a vital role in his very survival. Several kids also stood and cast wood sticks into the fire as a symbol of surrendering their lives to Jesus. That, together with the sound of the children’s voices lifted up in song to worship God brought me to tears. The night ended with glow sticks, smores and, for our girls at least, a quiet and meaningful conversation with Teacher Len Aritao, and a cup of hot cocoa.
On our last day, I heard the kids talking about how they will miss the camp and each other, and how they didn’t want to go home yet. The girls in our cabin, too, had bonded and gotten along so well. Surprisingly, neither Jude nor I had to break up any fights at all. They were all very sweet, looked out for and helped each other with tasks, often without being asked.
Overall, while the experience was certainly exhausting, it was also completely rewarding. Already, Sophie has been telling me that she wants to go back next year, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to it, too.