Last summer, I talked a bit about doing Gondar Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). I served at the Camp Director of the fourth iteration of Gondar GLOW and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my service. Meanwhile in Tigray, a group of PCVs was hosting the second Camp GROW (Growing and Renewing Our World) to take place in Ethiopia that focuses more on caring for and appreciating the world. It’s the only one we’ve got so we might as well love it!
Myself and a couple other volunteers thought it was a brilliant idea and decided to bring Camp GROW to the Amhara region. For the past year, we have been creating an entirely new camp model. Instead of being based on a university campus–usually outside of town and quite isolated–we thought it would be lovely to hold camp in the center of a small town. We chose Addis Kidam, the site of my friend and fellow G8er Amanda. There is a local NGO in her town started by Dr. Tilahun Zeweldu called Northwest Investments (NWI) that has a strong dedication to improving the lives of the community in a sustainable way.
I’m proud to say little over a month ago, 51 students from all over Amhara gathered for the first Amhara Camp GROW!
It was a massive undertaking as we had almost 80 people there at one point (including guests and guest speakers). Dr. Tilahun donated his community center in the heart of town for the 8 days of camp and we turned the six classroom, one meeting hall into a place of learning and fun for the week. The classrooms downstairs were turned into dormitories for the students and counselors while all the programming took place either upstairs in the meeting hall or outside.
At first the kids complained about the rough conditions, lack of electricity, rainy season weather and the fact that they were having the do real work outside (digging, planting, collecting trash, etc) but by the end of the week they were proudly showing off what they’d learned to about 200 members of the Addis Kidam community! These teenagers were telling older, well respected members of the community what a composting toilet or double-digging is! Amanda has a beautiful write up of the community fair here.
Not only did we want the camp to be sustainable through community involvement and a strong partner in NWI, but we wanted it to be healthy for the students and end up with little to no waste. First of all, Amanda’s G10 sitemate Ellery did ALL the cooking (read about her perspective here) and provided a variety of healthy, nutritious meals for the students. Cooking for 80 hungry people every day is no easy feat, yet Ellery managed to do it three meals a day for the eight days. We also collected the students leftover food after each meal and at the end of camp we had less than an injera platter of wasted food! Compared to camps past this was an incredible feat.
Here is a not so tiny list of what we accomplished during the week:
- Creating a small tree nursey
- Learning about and creating a permagarden
- Using tippy-taps to conserve water during handwashing
- No water bottle waste! The students refilled their water bottles with filtered water and then built a bottle brick bench with the bottles
- A nature walk at Lake Zengena crater lake
- Building a composting toilet (or three)
- Learning about the science of soils
- Cooking more nutritious dishes
- Creating their own herbal salves
- Designing an urban/container garden using waste materials
- Learning what leadership means and how the students can be leaders
- A community trash clean up
- Creating art from trash
- Having constructive free time where the students learned about environmental jenga, science experiments, music, the family planning game and coloring their own versions of The Giving Tree and other books
- Designing a “Bring It Home” activity in conjunction with the counselors from their town
- The first-of-its-kind community fair!
We could not have done this camp without a small grant from USAID’s Feed the Future initiative to help us purchase supplies and hold the planning/post-camp monitoring and evaluation meeting, but it truly was a combined effort from the community, our partner Northwest Investments and Dr. Tilahun, our counselors (both Peace Corps Volunteer and Ethiopian counterparts) and the students. The first Amhara Camp GROW was a huge success and I know that I hope to see it for many years to come.