In eight short weeks I will be starting a new job and moving to a new state. I will graduate and start my new career as a summer camp professional. This week I thought a lot about how my time at Kalu Yala is preparing me for some of the most important aspects of my future career. You may be asking yourself how living in the jungle and building things could possibly prepare me to manage youth and staff. Let me tell you why.
The Kalu Yala intern program is essentially summer camp for adults. Some people may read that and default to some negative idea that we are a bunch of 20 somethings just playing, hanging out, and not really doing much in the middle of the Panamanian Jungles,and I would have to disagree with those individuals. Summer camp is so much more than fun, it is the things that children learn while having fun that truly creates the summer camp experience. At Kalu Yala we learn exponentially more than simply the skills we use to complete our work.
I started going to camp when I was six years old. I started working at camp when I was 16, since then I have only been away from the camp setting for two summers. I major in Recreation and Leisure studies with the career goal of one day owning my own camp. It’s not because I want to play for the rest of my life or just have fun; it is because I truly believe that camp is an essential, crucial, powerful tool that has the ability to shape a better future for the entire world. I can talk for hours, suggest multiple books, journal articles, and more about the benefits and power of the summer camp experience. I’ll spare you that for the sake of brevity, but I will list just a couple of the benefits that the American Camp Association’s research has revealed. According to ACA children that experience summer camp report increased self-esteem, peer relationships, independence, adventure and exploration, leadership, environmental awareness, friendship skills, values and decisions, social comfort, and spirituality. I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of “adults” that could use a healthy dose of all of those things. So what is it about the camp experience that produces these results in thousands of children summer after summer?
I’ve thought about this question a lot. I’ve had the privilege of working at two camps on almost opposite ends of the spectrum. Both camps are great in their own right and both create these results among the youth that they serve. After reading, reflecting, remembering, and analyzing, I believe that the power of the camp experience comes from the ability to challenge oneself beyond measure in a supportive community.
Kalu Yala provides the exact same opportunity. I can put myself out there and try something I never thought I could do. I built a chair, a seemingly small feat, but the feeling of nailing that last nail in, sitting down, and seeing others use it brings nothing but joy and empowerment. If the chair had fallen apart upon first sit, there would have been 17 people there to lift my spirits and bring new innovation as to how to make it work. This is a community, it is extremely similar to a camp community, and it is the model that needs to shape every community if we truly want to create a better future.
Society has moved towards a model that champions individualism and self-preservation. We no longer recognize and feel the connections between what we do and how it affects others. The future community of Kalu Yala hopes to shift this dynamic. It will call for a return to face to face conversation, to empathy and compassion, to friendly disagreement that leads to monumental change- these are the things that create community and a better future. I happened to learn them at camp as a child and now have the privilege to feel that wonderful connectedness again within the Kalu Yala community.
I know all too many people whose internships consist of making copies, answering phones, and busy work. They are reduced to being simply a cog in the machine, but they have no idea what the machine really does. At Kalu Yala I have the autonomy to create my own projects or help others with theirs. I feel comfortable taking risks and challenging myself through the support of my fellow interns and directors. I know that the decisions I make and the culture and community of the interns will determine the direction of this company. Which sounds better?
I’m learning how to create culture and community in the best working environment possible by being a part of a community that values each of its parts. When I get to camp this summer I will be coming from one supportive community to another and my time at Kalu Yala will greatly shape the community that is created at camp.
Everyone is frustrated with the current state of the world, there is no doubt about that. If you want to be one of the people that starts actually working and living for a better world, then Kalu Yala is what you are looking for. If you’re ready to stop focusing on everything that’s wrong and start looking at all the potential, if you’re ready to step away from the screen and into a community that values your strengths instead of trying to fix your weaknesses, if you want an internship that is more than paper pushing, then this is where you need to be. Don’t let “I wish I could’s” and “maybe one days” keep you from living the life you want to live starting now. It is possible, and it is here. Email [email protected] for more information regarding Summer and Fall 2012 programs.