While our DR campers can’t technically say they’ve been living 10 for 2, the anticipation and excitement surrounding opening day at our Sabanete day camp is similar to that familiar feeling we get before heading up to Elizaville. By foot, gua gua (bus) and motoconcho (motorcycle taxi drivers), our campers arrived by the dozens, eager to embark on what is truly a unique, highlight of a week, in their summer. Our youngest camper is a five year-old girl and oldest a 14 year-old boy– and there are plenty of primos, hermanos, and friends in between– but all shared the same infectious “let’s do this” spirit. Some of the campers were with us last summer, and it was heartwarming to hear them reminisce about their favorite past activities and share the enthusiasm with the many first-timers (over 50%).
Our day started, as it will every day, with a dinámica. We’ve definitely got the hang of “El Barco Se Hunde,” a quick and easy way to pump up the entire group. Plus, we perfected the DREAM project catchphrase: one person screams, “Estamos juntos?” (are we together?), to which everyone responds, “JUNTOS ESTAMOS!” (“Together we are”). It’s a quick, easy, shout that somehow encapsulates the spirit, joy, and unity of camp.
The general layout of the camp day involves dividing into four groups– with 7-8 CITs and around 17 kids in each– and rotating through four separate stations: Arts n Crafts with Nicki, Sports with Moe, English with Yanil (a DREAMer), and Reading with Jessica (another DREAmer). Promoting literacy is a major goal of the DREAM project, as the DR has the lowest performing public school system out of any country in Latin America besides Haiti, and so camp strives to incorporate an academic component. We participate in all of the activities with the campers except reading, where we drop them off before going to work on our recyclable material mural. After literally no debate, we chose an underwater theme for it, complete with bubbles made out of water bottle caps spelling out the “Estamos Juntos” motto, and a dolphin with plastic bottle fins.
Despite all of the movement and uncharted territory of the first day we were able to jump in with full force, getting to know all our campers and understanding how to get them to participate in totally new activities. The morning featured Skippy Ball in sports (sort of like baseball, but with a small basketball… Matt Harris maaaay have hit a line drive at a camper, but she was a trooper), animal face masks made out of paper plates in art (shout out to Noah Levine for coming up with the idea), and learning how to introduce yourself in English. Even with a language barrier it’s astonishing how the simple act of cutting a butterfly or tiger mask, or cheering on a camper up at bat for the first time, melts away the differences. And it was always the campers you least expected it from who brought their A-game– the 3rd grade girl who got super competitive in four square, or Robert, the 6th grade boy who carefully (painstakingly) traced his lion mask.
Even amid all the activities, it was the moments between stations– a quick game of taps as the campers waited to get water, holding hands on the walk to sports, learning our camper Esteban loves Drake and speaks excellent English– that made the camp day. From a small game Lauren invented with our early arrivals that involved passing around a ball and sharing things about yourself (“What’s your favorite color?” “How many siblings do you have?”), to launching into an emergency game of Indian Chief when it started to downpour just as the kids were supposed to leave, even the unstructured moments were filled with action.
After our rotation of morning activities we hit up El Caminante (our pica pollo joint) for lunch, and took a much needed moment of water chugging and scarfing down rice to refuel (and get some shade) before heading back to camp. Today is the only day we have both morning and afternoon activities, and while it was certainly draining it was also worth it to see how excited our campers were to return for round two. Friends of friends and parents of eager campers lined up to ask for last minute sign ups to the program, and we were more than happy to oblige. This time we introduced 4-square in sports, made beaded bracelets in arts n crafts, learned the colors (via a scavenger hunt throughout the school) in English, and finished sketching all our underwater creatures (a turtle, jellyfish, a sting ray, etc) for the mural. Rocking our red DREAM camp counselor shirts, while the campers donned their lime green ones, the hallways were busy and bright.
Following camp we headed to Otto’s sister’s house in Los Brazos for a quick snack, and to learn a bit more about where our DREAM trip leaders were born and raised. Los Brazos is a small community located just north of where our camp is, nestled amid sprawling fields of palm tress, rolling mountains, and a river. The sister’s house abutted a cock fighting ring (an activity we will NOT be viewing), with men playing dominos in the shade of a colmado.
A full and fulfilling day behind us we returned to our hotel for some (you guessed it) pool and pool before enjoying a Beachcomber BBQ. Potatoes and burgers were a welcome respite from rice, beans and chicken with some more rice, beans and chicken.
Already we’re debriefing how to improve the camp day, deal with the trickier campers, and generally make camp the A++ experience that it can and should be. We’re excited to keep you all in the loop.