One of the more common projects Peace Corps Indonesia volunteers put together is an English Camp. Camps can differ significantly but they usually last for one or two days and include a series of short, focused English lessons. The weekend of January 21st I helped with an English camp organized by ID9 Lisa in neighboring district Majalengka.

The Camp

This was the second English camp Lisa organized with her school. Both were successes but from what I understand this year’s camp ran much smoother since she had last year’s experience to build on. The camp started early Saturday morning and went until noon Sunday. The campers were mostly 10th through 12th graders who came from around Majalengka and the schools of participating volunteers. Campers stayed in cabins on the campgrounds and didn’t do many traditionally “campy” things.

One of the main goals of these English camps is cultural exchange. It’s quite rare for Indonesian students to have access to multiple native English speakers. The chance for students to practice their English outside of the classroom in a low-stress and friendly environment is invaluable. They also get a chance to experience American diversity and different teaching styles.

Nine volunteers were involved with the camp including Lisa, the host/organizer. Alex, Austin, Brandon and I came from Sumedang. The other four traveling volunteers—Cordell, Michaela, Noah, Matt—were from Cianjur, Cirebon, and Kuningan.

The camp leaders. From left to right Matt, Alex, Noah, Cordell, Michaela, Lisa, Me, Brandon
The camp leaders. From left to right Matt, Alex, Noah, Cordell, Michaela, Lisa, Me, Brandon

Day 0

After I finished teaching my usual Friday morning class, I returned home to pack for the camp. I left my site around noon and arrived in Jatiwangi, Majalengka a little after 2 o’clock. The rest of the volunteers showed up over the course of the next couple hours. We went to dinner and then to the campgrounds to prepare for the camp.

Lisa gave us nametags and schedules, and then we reviewed what each person would be doing the next day. Once all organizational matters were settled we discussed the things Peace Corps volunteers are wont to discuss: life at site, recent illnesses, politics. The US presidential inauguration was scheduled to happen just a few hours after we went to sleep so that was a popular subject of conversation as well.

Day 1

The campers started arriving around seven in the morning. We had an opening ceremony including camp leader introductions, rules, useful phrases, and an explanation of the five activity stations. We divided the campers into groups based on fruits. The groups were apple, orange, banana, mango, and pineapple. I was given the apple group and then everyone went to the first round of activities.

I was supposed to teach how to express opinions with Brandon, however, Austin was too sick to lead his session so I filled in for him by teaching slang. I don’t use much slang in my everyday life so I wasn’t as prepared to teach it as I would have liked, but after my first group of campers I figured out what I wanted to teach and how I wanted to teach it and things went pretty well.

I taught some basic greetings such as “what’s up,” “how’s it going,” and “what’s going on,” as well as how to answer them. I have never actually liked when people greeted me by saying, “what’s up,” because I don’t know how to respond so I told my kids to reply with “nothing,” “not much,” or by saying whatever it is they’re doing at the moment. This lead to a lot of kids answering “what’s up” with “just sitting,” “I’m learning,” or “listening.”

We also went over a few idioms which I taught much better than greetings. They learned “break a leg,” “this place is a mad house,” “it’s a piece of cake,” “chill out,” and their favorite, “there are plenty of fish in the sea.” Indonesians love to talk about relationships so an idiom for consoling someone after a relationship that equates their former girlfriend or boyfriend to fish is pretty funny to them.

The other stations were quite diverse. Matt taught his groups of campers Bohemian Rhapsody, Alex gave a geography lesson of sorts and gave them interesting facts about other countries, Michaela and Noah played American games with their kids, and Brandon taught about opinions. Lisa and Cordell moved around from station to station making sure everyone was staying on time and knew where to go after each station.

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Throughout the day there were breaks for snacks and prayer. Since Muslims are required to pray five times a day we had to have scheduled breaks from camp activities to accommodate prayer time.

A little before five o’clock it began to rain so we had to cancel the rest of the evening activities which included a scavenger hunt and bon fire. It’s the rainy season now so the rain was not at all surprising, and no one seemed to mind the sudden change in schedule. I particularly enjoyed having the evening off after having been busy all morning and afternoon.

The evening was spent having more time to be American and talk about things only other volunteers would understand. We played Heads Up (a game similar to charades, an acting/guessing game) and even created a deck full of words and phrases specific to Peace Corps Indonesia.

Day 2

The second day of camp began half past seven with what was supposed to be a morning stretch but none of the camp leaders knew of any stretching routines so we went to the old Peace Corps Indonesia standby of doing the Banana Song with the campers. After the “stretch” the campers were again broken up into their respective fruit groups to plan a short performance.

Each of the five groups was told they would need to put together some sort of performance for the last day of the camp. The only requirement was that it be in English and that everyone had to participate either as an individual or in their group. They were free to perform a skit, sing a song, give a demonstration, or anything else.

The campers proved to be quite creative. I couldn’t quite follow along with some of the performances as they seemed to be comprised almost entirely of references which I knew nothing. One group sang a song about Gaza, a couple students gave spoken word performances about the importance of water, a few sang songs, and there were a couple “dramas.”

Once the performances were over there was a closing ceremony that primarily involved words from Lisa’s principal about the importance of learning as well as expressing thanks to Lisa for all the work she had done for her school. Her principal said even though Lisa would be leaving soon she would live on in their hearts. The moment was very emotional.

Goodbye, Ms. Lisa

Peace Corps volunteers often do not see the fruits of their labor during their service. Especially in the education sector, gauging the impact a volunteer has had can be difficult. Lisa’s principal apologized on behalf of her school for any discomfort they may have caused and thanked her for her tireless work. Living in Indonesia is difficult and no volunteer is without discomforts at their school. Lisa, being of Taiwanese ancestry and a woman, has put up with challenges I cannot even begin to understand let alone explain.

But with the principal’s apology and expression of gratitude for the work she has done the difference she made became a little clearer. During her two years in Indonesia Lisa inspired and motivated her students, showed them there is more to the world than the island of Java, taught them much more than the English language, and believed in them when others might not have. It wasn’t surprising to see many of Lisa’s students in tears towards the end of the closing ceremony as well.

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