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Are you wondering about leading a delegation for a CISV program this summer or coming winter?

Well brace yourself for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Let’s start in reverse order.

The ugly.

I am a 53 year-old woman who led a group of six 13-year-olds to a Youth Meeting in Sweden.

I averaged a shower every third day and a quick five hours of sleep every night.

I had to give up my daily three minutes with a blow dryer and whichever product I deem appropriate for that day’s do. (I am not terribly vain but will cop to bit of an obsession with “Good Hair”.)

Pretty quickly, however, I realized that in a CISV camp, no one is really paying attention to anyone’s hair, especially because a good part of the day is spent in energizers, usually including jumping, rolling around on the floor, or silly repeat-after-me stories.

So, yeah, the ugly. Of course “ugly” is an option, if not simply a matter of framing. And you could always choose to swap out some of that precious sleep in exchange for your normal morning routine.

The bad.

The bittersweet ending of camp will find you in the midst of heartfelt- and tearful- goodbyes among all the kids, leaders, and staff.

Somehow over the days, through a mix of flag football, dancing, unguarded discussions, shared meals, (and a personal best for coffee consumed in one day), a community has coalesced. A community based on honesty, vulnerability, laughter, alas, all good things come to an end.

The good.

I thought leading would be a “nice thing to do.” I would support peace, and sustainability, and “kids learning things.” While, I was a little apprehensive – mostly about potential lack of sleep – I was committed to, you know, giving back.

Seeing growing levels of friendship reflected in physical comfort: kids from five or six countries linking arms while walking, hugging after vulnerable moments, and singing songs at the end of the day, sprawled together like a tumble of puppies.

So, leading. I just didn’t expect to enjoy myself so darn much, to be touched so deeply, and to grow as much as maybe the kids did. Before going, I worried that I wouldn’t fit in as a leader. That my own delegation would be saddled with the only middle-aged lady (BTW I loved my nickname Mamma J) and that the other delegations would have cooler leaders. But just like the kids, we leaders came together, and the kids came together with the leaders, all of us with different strengths and perspectives, and the experience was unlike any other.

I recommend it. And if you have any sleep concerns like I did, you could always bring your own coffee maker.

What I didn’t expect was this:

Thing 1: I had a ridiculous amount of fun.

Late-night staff/leader meetings were jam-packed: planning, sharing observations, reflecting on how to ensure kids’ participating and comfort, envisioning the next day, and deliberately and thoughtful creating groupings for each activity.

But our meetings were even more; we moved from those topics into laughter, activities, and heart-to-heart discussions.

And days were crazy fun–with kids and adults–meals, activities, games, energizers, singing, and discussions.

Thing 2: Just like the Grinch, my heart grew three times bigger.

I would like to point out that, unlike the Grinch, my heart was normal size before going (more in the range of Cindy Lou-Hoo). But in several unexpected moments, I felt my own capacity for compassion and kindness expand and stretch, as I saw the compassion and kindness playing out in front of me.

Seeing kids’ personalities unfurl, like little pre-teen blossoms. Watching a mass of young and older faces transform into individuals with unique characteristics, vulnerabilities, strengths, and quirks.

Watching quiet kids start talking more, talkative kids start talking less.

Watching kids support each other with a nod or a wiggle of jazz hands (an American sign language signal for agreement). Watching kids draw each other out, sit silently together, step forward, step back, step up.

Seeing growing levels of comfort and friendship reflect physically: kids linking arms while walking, hugging after vulnerable moments, and sprawling like a tumble of puppies, singing songs together at the end of the day.

So, leading. I just didn’t expect to enjoy myself so darn much, to be touched so deeply, and to grow as much as maybe the kids did. One worry I had was that I wouldn’t fit in as a leader. That my own delegation would be saddled with the only middle-aged lady and that the other delegations would have cooler leaders. But just like the kids, we leaders came together, and the kids came together with the leaders, all of us with different strengths and perspectives, and the experience was unlike any other.

I recommend it. And if you’re anything like me, you could always bring your own coffee maker.

 

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