Clad in our DREAM shirts we rolled into the Sabaneta school, ready for our first full camp day. There were 77 eager kids waiting in the yard, ranging from seven to fifteen and decked out in everything from Yankee shirts to pink dresses. All year round, as DREAM told us, these kids have been waiting for summer camp.
Adonis and the DREAM staff always remark at how uniquely connected with each other and gifted with the Domincan children the CIT group is. We stand out in contrast to other American service groups that DREAM hosts (mostly from schools, we’re their only sleepaway camp). The DREAM staff marvels at how the CITs can make a game out of anything at anytime (on the bus on the way to the next itinerary item, waiting in the supermarket, hanging at the pool). They marvel at how comfortable we are with each other; how we look out for each other as a group; how intuitive and engaged we are when it comes to interacting with the Dominican campers.
All of this stems from growing up together at Scatico—a concept we try to explain to the DREAM staff, though it is culturally alien. It stems from living on top of each other in a cabin for two months out of the year; from engaging in long hang out and play sessions on back campus; from leading younger campers in College Bowl, Tribes and Color War; from being a division that has evolved together, summer after summer.
It is this unique camp magic that we seek to bring to Sabaneta. In a community where camp means a five day break from long, hot summers of hanging out in the house or roaming the neighborhood, we want to cram in as much as possible: the laughs between activities, the randomly breaking into song while waiting for water, the confidence to try a new activity for the first time, the kindness to share scarce resources and support the other campers in our “division”. It is the CITs high “camp IQ” that allows us to ensure that each and every Dominican camper, whether too young to write their name, or so mature that they are responsible for caring for their brothers and sisters while their parents are at work, are able to let loose, connect, and have fun.
At camp we have four stations: Arts n Crafts, English, Sports and Reading (during which our campers get some intensive literacy classes, and we take a break to work on building and organizing the school’s new library). Divided into four groups—orange (the youngest campers), green (our 10-year olds), pink (the 11-12 range), and blue (our eldest)—we each hit our first station, rotating through the rest over the course of the morning. Then after lunch (again at El Saman, our big tree spot), we did it all over again.
Each activity brought different challenges and new experiences. In English we (appropriately) started with introductions, teaching the kids how to say their name, age, and where they’re from. We also broke into an English version of “El Barco Se Hunde,” singing always being an effective way to learn new vocabulary. In the afternoon it was time to learn the numbers 1-10, and head out into the school for a scavenger hunt to find different quantities of random found items (1 rock, 2 leaves, 3 sticks…. You get the picture).
At art we made dream catchers, discovering that not all kids (or even CITs) know how to tie a knot, beads make everything look better, and dream catchers can also serve as necklaces. In the afternoon we made much-utilized fans in the design of different fruits. Watermelons, pineapples, limes, and strawberries were all popular choices, and we mastered the art of using a hot glue gun and practicing patience with kids who couldn’t hold a scissor or stay inside the lines.
When it came to sports it was Skippy Ball time (essentially baseball but with a mini basketball). Using the very basketball court the 2015 CITs painted during their camp, we coaxed our campers into standing in the sun, and also encouraged girls (who had never picked up a baseball bat) to give the unique sport a whirl (which they did, and they loved). The DR being a baseball heaven of sorts, a lot of kids were naturals (some coming close to hitting it over the fence). In the afternoon we brought a Scatico favorite to the DR: 4-square! Making two courts out of masking tape, we had two intense games going simultaneously, teaching kids how to hit their first serve and make their way to the Ace box.
Once we dropped our campers off at reading, it was our time to plan the library. After taking a much-needed break to refuel, we huddled up to plan our bookshelf designs. We’re making four bookshelves in total (each group taking responsibility for one), and have settled on a floral theme, sports theme, multicultural theme (a Dominican flag and American flag with a silhouette of kids holding hands), and sunset on the beach theme. With Nuno the carpenter as our lead, we took our first (hilarious) shot at manning power tools, learning how to adjust and change a power drill, and making one beautiful bookshelf in the process (we even got to throw some sanding in the mix).
Circling up at the end of the camp day, campers were already asking what the activities would be tomorrow, not leaving our side until we’d literally boarded the bus. Smiles on their faces and arms outstretched to wave goodbye, we knew it was a successful camp day in the books.
After a quick dip in the pool back at the hotel, we headed to Cabarete beach yet again for an oceanside dinner. Taking a brief break from fried chicken, we hunkered down on coconut fish, pork, and pasta. Lastly we embarked on a Dominican ice cream adventure, learning “barquilla” is the word for cone, chicle (gum) is a flavor (not good), tres leches is another flavor (much better) and that one ice cream shop employee can serve 35 customers in 30 minutes. After a mad dash sprint across the street (Adonis literally stopping motorcycle traffic), we boarded our “blue submarine” (new bus, new nickname) and headed home.
With another camp day and cave swimming on the horizon, we can’t wait to share what’s in store!