Life Changing English

July 11th through 17th

After months and months of planning, organizing, fundraising, and purchasing, the week of English camp was finally upon us! We traveled hours by bus in the pre-dawn hours, bringing with us our most ambitious English students, counterparts (fellow teachers), and junior counselors (Student leaders) to create the FIRST ever Camp English in Debre Birhan. During the week, all participants were expected to speak ONLY English, all week long. For many, even some Peace Corps Volunteers, this was a major challenge. After living here for two years, it’s somewhat difficult to call coffee ‘coffee’ and tea ‘tea’.

The first day was somewhat challenging. The students were shy and didn’t want to speak English. Of course, the first day we were just getting settled in and hadn’t really started enforcing the ‘no Amharic’ rule yet. So students were still speaking in their native tongue. Students were mostly sticking with the friends they came to camp with and weren’t really branching out to new groups.

On day two this all quickly changed. We tore Amharic away from them. We had a reward system called ‘camp dollars.’ They all started with $20 and we gave them money for doing good things like homework or speaking English and we took money away if we caught them speaking Amharic. The first few days we took away a lot of money. We were soon shocked to find that even when we snuck around, they were speaking English in their downtime or when playing games, it was becoming more and more natural for them to even play in English.

The amount of confidence and comfort that each student developed was amazing to watch. I observed my two campers and one junior counselor grow so much. I really had no idea the amount of English that was inside my students, waiting to come out. By the end of the week, they were giving amazing speeches and performing in front of the whole camp!

Our camp had classes in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. In reading, we had three different reading groups, with three different books. The three books were Frindle, The Return, and Holes. The students loved the books and were all able to keep their books to finish or reread at home.

In writing class, students worked to build an essay. By the end of the week, they had a full and polished essay to share in class. In speaking class, similarly they worked to write and share speeches. This was a major feat for many, since public speaking is very difficult for many students. Building this confidence on top of memorizing a speech is even more difficult. The students did shockingly well at this!

Listening was a fun an interesting class. They practiced listening to different dialects and accents. In the end, they practiced and shared a song they had practiced singing, since listening to music can also be a difficult thing to understand as a foreign listener.

We also had amazing club times that the students loved. Everything from history, sports, debate, dancing, to art. Although sports club was always a big favorite after a long day of classes, it was pretty hard to compete with history club! The first day’s class was packed full of eager faces ready to learn about the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. I’m not sure who loved the class more, the students or the teacher, Alexandra Rutan (an Abe addict). Debate was also a big hit with everyone. Debates were student led and amazing to watch. Watching the dance moves flow out of students was also incredibly fun. Although I was partial to the art club, since I was one of the teachers, we had a lot of fun things created. During one of our club meetings, we made fortune tellers which the kids loved. The second club meeting, we made thank you cards. Most of the students made at least two to three cards and several of them wrote one to the Peace Corps Volunteers of Camp English.

This doesn’t even cover our evening activities! Yes, these were long and exhausting days that began at 7am and didn’t even begin to slow until about 9/10pm. Our evening activities consisted of an impressive spelling bee, creative/critical thinking exercises and puzzles, a guest public speaker, future planning/their life tree, jeopardy, plagiarism discussion, an amazing talent show, and a gender stadium with discussion about gender issues in Ethiopia. These evening events were always a highlight for the day and one of the few times when everyone was all in the same room together to do activities.

I think one of the things that all of the Peace Corps Volunteers realized during this week, was how this experience was truly a life changing experience for these young adults. We think of our American camp experiences in our own childhoods as something fun and maybe we made some friends one summer. But these camps in Ethiopia are LIFE CHANGING. One student kept saying that this is when his life began. These students became so close, that by the end of the week, they were all in tears at the thought of leaving one another. On our last night, we had a candlelight ceremony to say what we would miss about each other and about camp. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. So many thank yous said to Peace Corps Volunteers for making this camp happen.

I know that as a G11, about to be finished with my service, I am so thankful that I was able to end my service this way. I have been told during my whole two year, that camp would be the best part of my service, and they weren’t wrong. I am truly blessed to have met all of these kids and to have been able to take amazing young adult to camp with me. I know that they will take this experience and keep it as a part of them forever. I know that as Volunteers, here for a short time, we just hope that our legacy lives for a little while, even in ONE person. I think that through Camp English, it truly will. So we are lucky that we were able to make this happen.

So, I want to thank the students of Camp English for making this camp possible. Without eager students willing to learn and have a great time with us, this wouldn’t have been nearly as amazing. Without inspiring Junior Counselors to be amazing role models for our campers to look up to throughout the week, we would have been lost. Without the helping hands of our incredible Counterparts, we would always be overwhelmed! And for all the amazing teamwork to the 10 Peace Corps Volunteers who divided and concurred this huge task and made it happen. We did it!
And finally….Thank you SO much to EACH and EVERY donor who made this camp possible. I know they are not all listed here. Our grant is private so we do not know those who donated to the grant directly. But you know who you are and the youth of Debre Birhan would not have been able to experience this Camp English without you. We appreciate you and so do they!!!!
Donors-THANK YOU!!!!

  • Major Grant Fundraising- Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Vero Beach, Florida- Coordinator-Claudia Jimenez
  • Frindle, Holes, and prize books donor- The Women’s Group of Liberty First Christian Church, Liberty, Kentucky
  • The Return book donor- Mrs. Janke, Vero Beach, Florida
  • Wool blankets for every student and Peace Corps Volunteer- Neil Landreville, RPCV, New York


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