treasuring the small victories…

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How do you even begin to make an impact in communities with deep distrust of medicine and doctors? Over the last few months I’ve begun to learn that you do it through building trust. Topics that are easier for the women to agree with–like nutrition and first aid–are great places to start. When you start from a place that is more familiar and doesn’t have as many preconceived ideas, you don’t have to take them as far and you can begin to build trust. After you’ve begun to build trust, then you can start addressing issues that are harder—like immunizations and family planning.

At our last seminar we had 48 women attend, 8 more than at the last one that we did! And the cool thing is that not only did they just sit through the whole seminar, but they also asked questions for 45 minutes after the seminar was over. They were engaged, they were excited, they were comfortable enough to ask the tough questions and listen to what Dr. Elva had to say in response.

We are still a long ways off from a completely healthy community, but I think it is important to recognize the little steps and be excited for small victories…because a series of small victories is a large one.

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Merry Christmas…

Pictures-Of-Merry-ChristmasI absolutely love Christmas–it is by far my favorite holiday of the year. This year as I’ve been reflecting on what I love about the Christmas season and the day itself, I am realizing that the traditional aspects of a “magical Christmas” (snow, lights, music playing everywhere, shoppers bustling about, etc) aren’t what really make Christmas magical to me–which is good, because celebrating Christmas in a city where Christmas is not a huge holiday would leave one feeling a bit disappointed. But even though this year has not included some of the traditional aspects of Christmas as we celebrate in the US and Spain, I have found this Christmas to be absolutely incredible!

Christmas is incredible not because of the festive atmosphere out and about–it’s about the people, relationships, sharing meals together, and remembering the true reason for why we celebrate the holiday to begin with. I challenge you this year to focus on the people in your life, spend time with them, really talk and enjoying being together…because that is the part of Christmas that really lasts.

Merry Christmas from Jakarta!!!

I love Christmas…

I love Christmas. I love the lights, the music, the food, the general festivity of the season. It doesn’t even matter that it is hot and rainy rather than cold and snowy—if you stand under the AC unit it feels about the same.
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Every year my LIFE group has a Christmas party, which is one of the highlights of the year. This year was particularly special because we had two members who had never celebrated Christmas in Western fashion before—they had never decorated Christmas cookies or a Christmas tree. It was so fun to see their excitement and enthusiasm about us getting to all do it together as a group.

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I think what I liked the best was experiencing the freshness of the Christmas season through their eyes…the newness and excitement. But it was also a good reminder that celebrating Christmas with a tree and cookies, while awesome, is not the only way to celebrate—because ultimately that’s not what the holiday is all about. Christmas is about the savior of the world coming and making himself man to dwell among us and ultimately be a sacrifice on our behalf….the festivities are just extra fun—icing on the cake so to speak.

it’s deeper than you think…

When you hear about malnutrition, it’s easy to tune it out. Reading that there are over 9.5 million children in Indonesia under five years of age who are malnourished is an abstract concept, and is easy to put in a box of issues to deal with later. But when you see the effects of malnutrition in the lives of children that you personally know—it hits home in a whole new way. It’s no longer just statistics on a page—it’s your reality.

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Over the last year and a half I have been working in two slum communities in the Greater Jakarta area. Reduced cognitive development isn’t a scientific term to me anymore—it’s the inability of the children in my kindergartens to progress to the next school level at a normal rate. It’s seeing the kids stay half the size of other children that you see in the mall. It’s seeing them not be able to develop like other children because they aren’t receiving the proper nutrition.

But once you see the problem, what do you do about it? As a first attempt to address malnutrition, with the help of very generous donors, I started a healthy food supplement program at each of our three kindergartens. We made sure that each child had protein, a vegetable, and a piece of fruit at least three times per week. I found that families were willing to participate, but as I got to know the mothers, I learned that they needed much more than simply food donations. I came to understand that the moms needed to learn what they should be feeding their children, why it is important for them to get a variety of food types, and how to cook healthy foods they had never prepared.

Not only was the problem deeper than simply not having enough food, but it was also targeting the wrong age group. The window to prevent stunting is in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (conception to two years of age). That’s when I decided that I wanted to start a health education seminar series for women in the community—because by working with the moms, we can have a deeper impact on the health of the community.

My vision was to take 20 mothers through a four part series on nutrition, immunizations, sanitation, and family planning at each of our kindergarten locations. At the end of the series I want to hold a special award ceremony for those mothers who make it all the way through the four sessions.

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Last week the beginning of my dream became a reality. I arrived at our kindergarten in Muara Baru, where we were going to hold the seminar, and instead of the 20 women I expected to come, there were over 40—there physically was no more space in the building for more women. And not only did they just come and sit through the session—but they engaged with our volunteer doctor and asked questions because they want to learn more and help their children succeed.

I realize that we still have a long road ahead, but I think it’s important to celebrate the first step!

to change a generation…

The last two weeks I have had the opportunity to host an amazing team of girls from Australia who came to teach English for a week at one of our Partners for Compassion sponsored schools. After talking with them, the importance of our education programs and the importance of what we do really hit me in a new way, and I want to share a few of my musings with you….

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Education. Education is a part of life that we generally take for granted. It is a part of our childhood that we may have loved or hated—but never questioned it being a part of our lives.

Imagine a life where education is a luxury and not a basic necessity. Imagine a life where having a middle school education is a milestone achievement. Imagine not having the option to go to school, not because you don’t want to, but because the cost for registration and books is more money than your family can afford.

Education is not supposed to be a privilege or a luxury…it should be a basic part of life. I believe that is why our schools are so important. We provide the best education we can to students who would otherwise not be in school. By investing in the next generation—equipping them to be thoughtful and productive citizens—we can change a generation and maybe even a whole nation.

What better gift can we give a child than a quality education? We may not be able to change the whole world…but we can impact the one. And that one may just be the one who changes the world.

I believe that if we say that we love, than there should be an action that follows. Because to love is to do. Love is a VERB.

it’s all about relationships…

I like lists. I like the feeling of checking tasks off a list. It makes me feel like I have accomplished something. Since coming to Indonesia, though, I have learned that life is about more than simply checking tasks off of a list…it’s about building relationships with people.

The other day I had to go to the trash dump community to meet with the community leaders about our next phase of health programs. Traffic was surprisingly good and we arrived about 30 minutes early. Our hosts slowly assembled everyone who was supposed to be in the meeting, and brought us drinks and snacks, and then started to converse with us. For the next hour and forty five minutes we talked about everything under the sun—the weather, Independence day celebrations, families—everything, that is except our health programs, which is why we were there in the first place.

Though looking back, I would have expected myself to be frustrated, I actually really ended up enjoying the conversation a lot. Not only was it great to be able to finally have enough language skills to follow the conversation, but it was also great to get a glimpse into how they really live and what they value. After the chit chat started to die down, we were able to bring up our proposed health programs, and in fifteen minutes, the community leaders had approved our health plans. Because you can’t just leave abruptly after discussing business, for the next thirty minutes we continued to talk about life in their community. After about two and a half hours of talking, we finally finished our conversation and headed back home.

In previous places that I have lived, business was just business. It was all about the efficiency of the meeting. You go in, get straight to the point, and then leave right away. If you are feeling particularly friendly, you might chit-chat for a couple of minutes, but then you get right to business. It’s not that people don’t care about each other, it is just that in the West we tend to value efficiency…we get things done and check them off of a list.

In Indonesia, though, it is not about getting a task done, it is about the relationships that you form with the people through the process of accomplishing tasks…It is why a fifteen minute meeting ended up taking two and a half hours. I am discovering that I really am learning to value relationships with people over being efficient at accomplishing tasks. When you take time to really listen to people, not just about what a specific meeting is about, you give them value, you build relationships, and it is through these relationships that you can get things done. Without relationships, you may have great ideas, but they will never go anywhere. Even when things do not go according to plan, if you value the people more than the task, then the situation is much less stressful, because it was not a complete waste, because there was a relationship formed or deepened through it.

Though I have learned many things in my time in Indonesia, I think this is one of the most life changing lessons. Building relationships with people should always trump tasks.

to eastern Indonesia I go…part 3 (the return)

     The trip to Seram was amazing, I was sad to leave. After our evening service Friday night in Samasuru, we packed up, said all our goodbyes (complete with 200 photos), and headed back to Masohi, so we would already be in town for our 8am boat ride back to Ambon island.
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     The best part of arriving in Masohi was catching up with the other half of the team that had gone to a different village—Nuweletetu. None of us had good cell signal in the villages, so our communication had been very limited. Though it was the middle of the night, and we had a 5:30am wake up call the next morning, we did some quick catching up before heading to bed.
     The next morning at breakfast was a hum of activity, everyone sharing the highlights of their last three days. Though breakfast was loud, when we all got on the boat we fell asleep very quickly.
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     Back in Ambon, our agenda for the day was to have a final team bonding experience and debrief of the past few days. We went to buy some souvenirs, went to the beach front to eat rujak (fresh fruit covered in peanut sauce) and then a photo shoot at the beach. After dinner we had our final team meeting and went over the highlights and challenges of the past few days. It was so cool to be able to process with each other before we went back home and had to try to synthesize our experience and be able to explain it.
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     Sunday morning, our last day, I went with Korry and some of the other guys from our team to a small church about an hour and a half away, which was located one village over from Korry’s family’s house. After service she took us around to see where she grew up. We went to this really cool rocky beach, where we attempted to climb rocks. I didn’t know we would be adventuring, so I had decided to wear a long skirt. Side note – I don’t know how pioneer women did it back in the day, I was really struggling to climb being so restricted in my movement. Anyway, after the beach, we went to her family’s village and I got to see her school and the house where she grew up. We had been talking about visiting for the past two years, so it was so cool to finally see it! After the village, we ate a quick lunch and then headed back to where we were staying so we could pack up and get ready to leave for the airport.
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     Before we left for the airport, we decided to do one more photo shoot in our new Maluku shirts, which were a gift from our host for coming to help them. After that we took a full team picture, loaded up, and headed to the airport for our trip home.
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     It was such an incredible experience. I was so honored to be able to be a part of such an incredible team. I ate some really weird food (which for most people would be a negative, but for me was a great challenge), had a lot of laughs, and learned a lot about myself, about the concept of team, and about God. I am excited to hopefully continue a partnership with such an amazing place and team in Seram and Ambon.

to eastern Indonesia I go…part 2 (the village)

My time in Samasuru village was absolutely amazing!
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CONSTRUCTION: 
    Before last week I had never really seen the whole process of building a house from scratch. I’m not exactly sure what I expected…but having a whole house framed, partially roofed, and part of the cement walls put finished in two days was not exactly what I expected. To see something start from a slap of stones and cement to a clear house structure in such a short time was absolutely incredible.
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     When we arrived at our village the wood for construction hadn’t arrived yet, so instead of just killing time, we decided to work on finishing details on the existing church. We put plamir (kind of like plaster) on the walls, which would serve as a primer for future painting and look much better than grey cement walls.
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     After a few hours, our team finished the inside walls and so we moved on to the outside walls. When I started to plamir the walls outside I had a whole group of ladies come up and started intently staring at me while I was working, which was quite disconcerting. Being quite self-conscious about my plamir technique, I made a joke that I was a little slower than the guys. One of the ladies responded in a very serious tone, “Of course, they’re men.” That was the first time I got a feeling that being one of two girls in a construction team of men might not be as smooth sailing as I thought it would be. However, I pressed on and we were able to finish all of the walls of the church both inside and outside before the start of our afternoon kid’s program.
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     The second day our whole team got up and met at the construction site by 6am…even before coffee! The carpenters had been working all night to get the pieces of the house all in the right order so that it would just be a matter of pegging the pieces together and then raising the walls. I have never actually seen a barn raising in person, but I think this was probably very similar to what that would look like.
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     After a little bit I saw Korry working with a guy on the edge of the construction site; she was using a machete to form pieces of wood into pegs. I decided to head over that way and see if maybe I could help too. One of the guys handed me a machete and a small piece of wood and I started on my peg. I worked for about 10 minutes and was almost done, when an old man came up to me, took away my machete and told me that he would “help” me by finishing it. I was a little disappointed, I had really wanted to at least finish my one peg, but I knew that I was a lot slower than they were, and we needed the pegs quickly so they could keep building, so I let it go.
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     A couple hours in, our IES team realized that we had some free time before the carpenters would be ready for us to be able to help them with the next phase. Instead of just standing around watching, we decided to take a break and go to explore the beach a little bit. We put on our sandals and started our 15 minute walk to the beach through the woods/jungle. We had to wade through some water to get there, but it was completely worth it, the view was incredible! It was so refreshing to walk through the mini-jungle and then see the ocean and play and goof around a little bit with the rest of the team.
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     After lunch we were able to start “chor-ing” on the walls. We had to nail wooden boards on both sides of where the walls would be and then pour cement inside of the boards. At first I think they only let me start mixing the cement because they thought I wanted a photo of me with the shovel, but when I didn’t give the shovel back after a few scoops, I think they realized that I really wanted to help. It felt so good to have my sleeves rolled up and finally be doing hard work…I guess my inner “farm-girl” came out and it was great! The fact that it surprised all the guys that I could keep up the mixing speed and quantity was also an added bonus. After about 15 minutes, though, they decided that I should help transport buckets of cement back and forth to the house (since I was a girl after all), so I changed jobs. I actually really ended up enjoying that too. I learned an interesting fact about myself on this trip…I don’t do well sitting still when there is a job to be done, I much prefer to get my hands dirty and be in the midst of the action.
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     Our last full day in the village we were able to finish up all the chor we could do with the supplies that we had, which lasted until right before lunch. After lunch, a bunch of the kids from the village decided to take us to the nearby river for some fun before we had to get ready for our last kids program of the week. I think playing in the river was one of the most fun things I have done in Indonesia. The kids were so unbelievably excited to play with us. Korry and I decided that we were going to sit on a log in the middle of the river and watch the kids and our other team members swim and play in the current. Well, the kids decided they would swim towards us and give us pretty stones as a “toll” for passing by. We laughed, we splashed, we got some sun…it was amazing. Definitely a great final afternoon in Samasuru.
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     Not only did we get to work on construction projects, but we also got to work with children…both during our organized kids program, and throughout the week in any free time that we had. The pastor’s two children, Icha and Jael, became my best buddies. One of them was always grabbing on to me or Korry. It took me a while to earn their trust (as I don’t think they had ever seen a white person before), but once they decided they liked me, we were best friends.
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     For our kids program, we had been expecting 35-50 children maximum. We were going to do music, games, a craft, and story time. By the time our first afternoon kids program started, we had 147 kids…but only supplies for 50! Thankfully Korry is great at thinking on her feet, so we were able to adapt our program, and no one but us knew that it wasn’t how we initially planned it. The kids laughed, danced, and were just full of joy. For much of the story, they were laughing so hard their eyes were watering. It was better than we could have imagined!
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     The last afternoon after the story we took time to pray for each of the kids. While we were praying they were singing the most beautiful song in Indonesian. They sounded like a choir of angels, their voices were so beautiful. After spending three days with them, it was such an honor to get to pray for them.
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     Though our organized kids activities were awesome, my favorite part was just hanging out with the kids after the scheduled program. We had a group of about 8-10 of them that would take us on walks, or just stay late and sing every Sunday School song they knew with us. It was so special to get to know them a little bit, to play with them, and to show them love. They are so full of joy. When I was with them, I just couldn’t help but feel full of joy too. Though I am not fluent in Indonesian, my language was good enough to be able to communicate and chat about life, about school, about what they do for fun. They told me about their culture and some of the weird things they eat, like giant snakes. I feel like they gave me a small glimpse into their world, and it was such an honor.
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    After our last kids program, we had to get ready for the evening service. It was so cool to worship with everyone in their language one more time before we headed back to Ambon. After the service we took a bazzilion pictures, loaded up the ancot, and headed back to Masohi to meet the other half of the team.
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     It was sad to leave them after having really connected. I learned a lot about myself, about them, about life…I will forever be grateful for the three days in Samasuru. But while I was a  little sad to leave, I was also really excited to catch up with the other half of the team and hear what had happened in their village for the past three days.
(to be continued) 

to eastern Indonesia I go…part 1 (the journey)

     Since coming to Indonesia two years ago I have been talking with Korry (my housemate and my Indonesian sister) about visiting the Maluku Islands, where she is originally from. When the opportunity to take a team from IES there for a building and kids outreach trip, we both jumped at the chance to join! The trip went above and beyond anything I could have expected.
     The trip can be broken up into roughly three parts – the journey, the village, and the return. Over the next three posts I will share each part of the experience.
Seram 2015 – Part 1: The Journey
     The journey to Seram began at 11pm when our team met at the airport to check in and then  board our midnight flight to Ambon island. One thing I learned very quickly about our team, is that they were definitely a photo-friendly crowd…we stopped for pictures about every 10 minutes through the airport, hahaha.
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     After a four hour flight (which surprisingly left early from Jakarta), we landed bright and early in Ambon, where we ate a quick breakfast and boarded a speed boat for our 2 hour ride across the water to Seram Island, where we would be serving for the next week.
IMG_4456     Having gotten very little sleep the night before due to the crazy plane schedule, the whole team fell asleep almost the moment we sat down in our seats on the boat…with a short wake-up time to go to the deck in the front of the ship and get some good pictures and fresh sea air.
     When the boat docked in Amahai, Seram, we piled ourselves and all our luggage into three vehicles and made our way to the guest house, where we would stay for the next two nights. After settling in a little, we went to get lunch and then proceeded directly to our afternoon kids program.
     One of the first signs that we were far from Jakarta came that first afternoon after the kids program. In Jakarta people are much more used to seeing bules (white people), so I was a little surprised when after our program, all 130 kids rushed towards me and wanted a selfie with the “bule”.
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     I figured I had two options, either say no, or get fully into character and embrace the moment. Since I was their guest, I figured it would be best to just go for it. It ended up being a blast taking pictures, getting into it with them and making funny faces and the peace sign. While it was quite fun, I must say, I am glad that it is not a regular part of life and just an occasional experience.
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     After the kids program, we went back the house, changed, and proceeded to our evening service. It turned out that at the church we went to, they had the same type of dance team that I was in when I was growing up in Mexico and Spain. It was so cool to watch!
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     The second day in Masohi, started quite abruptly. At 5am very loud music started playing. I awoke quite startled and a little confused. At first I thought it was someone’s alarm…but it kept playing over and over and over for over an hour. I tried everything to block it out, plugging my ears, putting a pillow over my head, playing my own music, but nothing could drown out the sound. At 6am I finally gave up and decided to get up and get ready for the day. I learned later that the sound is from one of the churches in the valley that plays it to call people to come and pray before they start their day…very interesting.
     After breakfast, we split up into two smaller teams—one to train Sunday School teachers, and the other half to do a seminar on family and leadership in the morning (which was my team). We had about 45 people attend each seminar, which I think was pretty good attendance.
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     Once the seminar was done, my group went back to the guest house to rest up before we had our evening service. Instead of resting like we probably should have, some of us decided to hike up the ridge across the street from the guest house where we were staying. We wanted to see if we could get a better view of the ocean. We got to hike up through beautiful greenery and we did end up with a great view. When we got back to the house we sat and chatted and then took a short rest before leaving for the service.
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     During the evening service I was able to share my testimony, and then help pray for people after the sermon. It was so cool to be able to share how God had been faithful in my life through healing me, and then challenge them to believe God for the impossible too.
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     After service, I got to chat and take selfies with the girls who were on the dancing team, which was a blast! They even invited me to join them next time I came back. I thanked them, but know that I am no longer any where close to as good as they are, and probably couldn’t even keep up anymore…but it was still sweet of them to offer.
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     After that, we had a snack with the Pastor, and then met up with the other half of the team for dinner. By the time we finished and got back to guest house it was almost 11pm. We had just a few hours to sleep before we made our journey in to the villages where we would be spending the next three days.
     Bright and early the next morning I was up and ready to go. After a quick group photo, we loaded our vehicle, piled in, and began our two hour ride to the village we would be staying in for the next three days, Samasuru…
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(to be continued)

teamwork makes the dream work…

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When I first agreed to be the game master for the 2015 IES teens camp, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…I just knew that they needed help, and that it would probably be fun.

As I was meeting with Isabel Kenney, the teen coordinator of the camp, she shared with me her motto for games, “team work makes the dream work.” It sounded super catchy, so I decided that that phrase would be our motto for the camp games. I wanted all the games at camp to build the teens together as a team—that they would be more unified and cohesive afterwards.

Through much planning and writing a slightly over the top 26 page game guide, the camp games were ready to go!

The first activity we had the teens do was “tribe time.” We broke them into their tribes (teams) for the week and had them design a flag, create a tribe cheer, and create a short skit about one of the code of conduct rules that they had been assigned. This helped them start to build unity amongst themselves, and start to find their place within their tribe.

IMG_8110Day two was full of fun outside games. The first was fear factor, which had three phases of challenges—smelling, feeling, and then eating. The tribes had to work as a team to listen to each other so that when the first part was done, they could work together to get the second part, and so on until the end.

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After fear factor, though, I realized that my voice was not loud enough to be able to accurately communicate with the teens and leaders what I needed them all to do. I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t be heard, and the participants were getting restless waiting for the next activity to be explained. That’s where teamwork comes in. One of the members of the team, Pastor Mike, agreed to be my voice of the instructions. So I explained to him what needed to happen, and then once everyone was corralled to where they needed to be, he would explain everything that needed to happen. Needless to say, tug of war and capture the flag (with adjusted rules) went so much better than if I had tried to do it on my own.

The next exercise in teamwork (for both the leaders and participants) was the amazing race competition on day three. I had ten different challenges set up all around the campground that each tribe had to complete. Since I obviously could not run everything by myself (since tribes would be at different stations at different times), I had to really rely on my team to know their challenge and be able to run in without me. Being a little bit of a control freak, I was so worried that it would be a disaster. But on the contrary, it ended up being amazing! All of us adult leaders worked together and the challenges were seamlessly set up and run. It was so much better than if I had tried to do it on my own!

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Not only did the adult leaders really have to function as a team, but each tribe did too. Whenever they were not actually completing a challenge, they had to all walk or run hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm. If an adult leader saw them break contact, they had a 30-second freeze penalty where they couldn’t move at all—which would obviously set them back in the race. I added this rule last minute as a way to make sure there were no stragglers, but it ended up being the thing that really made teamwork a central part of the amazing race. The teams that figured out how to work as a team did much better, and ended up being leaders in the race, and the teams that couldn’t, ended up towards the end.

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So my main takeaway from camp was that no matter how much I organized and planed, I couldn’t do it by myself—I needed to use my team. And teamwork really does make the dream work—and with good teamwork you can exceed your plans and even your dreams.