Boz and I spent a weekend back in June volunteering at an English-language camp for kids affected by the 2011 earthquake (and its aftermath). Many of the attendees lost family members and/or their homes in the earthquake and have been living in temporary housing ever since. Not surprisingly, these circumstances have taken a toll on the general disposition, not to mention the scholastic progress, of these lil' dudes. The English-language camps are designed to bring some fun, education and companionship to these kiddos as they deal with extraordinary challenges. I read about the camps online while I was in Ohio preparing for our wedding and immediately signed the Vegetables up for a weekend of service/fun/challenge/awesomeness. We were pretty stoked going into this...but it turned out to be many levels beyond what we anticipated.
The English camp is held every weekend all summer long and hundreds of children attend. On our particular weekend, we had 156 kiddos along for the ride. We all met up at a train station outside of Tokyo and then took a 2-hour bus ride to the actual camp site (located in Chiba). As it turns out, the countryside of Chiba is stunning:
|I've a feeling we're not in Tokyo anymore...|
The bus ride was completely ridiculous as all the kids were super giggly and shy and yet the volunteers were
encouraged to make conversation in English. I trust you can imagine how that went over with a bunch of 10(ish) year olds.
|Yep. This about sums up how I felt too.|
Upon arrival, we were split into our groups (of 10-15 kids+3 volunteers) and presented with our first cafeteria-style Japanese meal.
Ok, now that I've covered the really important stuff...(the scenery and the food)...let me tell you about the kids ;)
The shyness on the bus was a front. As soon as they landed at camp, inhibitions were lowered, voices were raised, and squealing and laughter ensued. The introductory activities included a couple hours in a gymnasium with English-conversation games and free play (with basketballs..which almost killed me as I hate ball sports...but apparently this weekend wasn't about me.) We then took the chaos outdoors where we played tag and threw down a major cookout. Boz and I both manned a grill...B cooked up about 14 lbs of meat and I grilled corn, onions and peppers. But the evening highlight was a huge bonfire complete with campfire songs, dancing and a "scary hike". While I sat around the fire, singing with our team, Boz snuck off with a few other guy volunteers and set up a haunted hike. Once the guys were in place, I had to herd my team of kiddos down a little path where B and his fellow ghosts jumped out and made freaky noises. The kids all screamed...I screamed and laughed and prayed that I was indeed in the correct spot...and I hope to never do any of that ever again.
|The little girl holding B's hand cried the whole bus ride to camp. But then she found someone she liked :)|
(She held Boz's hand with a death-grip. The cuteness killed me on the spot.)
Side note: As I was singing along with our crew while Boz was off setting up the ghost hike, one of the little boys noticed B was missing. He alerted one of his buddies and they both ran over to me yelling "Matt-san!?!?!?!! Matt-san!?!? No Matt-san!!!!!" I recruited a Japanese-speaking volunteer to assure them I was aware of Matt's absence and 100% certain he would return unharmed. Apparently I do not give off the image of 'concerned, trustworthy wife'.
We ended the evening with a little playtime in our cabins and then hit the sack...bunk-bed style.
|Our sleeping and washing facilities.|
The following morning began with breakfast followed by a parachute party. I went to a Catholic grade school where we played with parachutes on a fairly regular basis. I absolutely loved parachutes back then...and was pleased to learn I still love parachutes 30 years later.
|This was B's first experience with parachute play. He took to it like a champ.|
We followed the 'chutes with a few additional outdoor games, along with more language classes.
|Somehow, 156 kids managed to run around like crazed circus animals all weekend, yet still be completely respectful of one another and the volunteers at all times. There was not *one single fight* all weekend.|
|I mean...are you kidding me!?|
|Shortly after our arrival, all the kids deduced that Boz and I are married. They spent the rest of the weekend making this heart symbol with their hands. Again...it kills me.|
When we landed back in Tokyo late Sunday evening, the camp organizer thanked the volunteers as the kids ran down our makeshift human tunnel, high-five'ing every one of us. Afterwards, as B and I made our way back to Roppongi, uncharacteristically limited words were exchanged. I suppose that's because the entire weekend can be summed up in 3 sentences: Lil' dudes, we went to Chiba with the intention of providing you some comic (albeit educational) relief. In return, you gave us our most memorable weekend in Japan. From the bottom of our hearts, arigatou-gozaimasu.
We'll be right here.
Matt-san and Abby-san