Malawi has been amazing. We have completed a full camp session with the help of leadership team members including one Baylor doctor, the Malawi Teen Club Coordinator (my old position at Baylor Swaziland last year), a Logistics Coordinator, the Camp Hope Director and three Hole in the Wall consultants (me).

We served 61 campers over the two week camp period ranging from 11-17 years old. We trained over 21 staff on camp procedures, programs, and more. All campers were living with HIV and were given the chance to play with other teens their age living under similar conditions for free! It was so fun and often times I had to stop myself to remember how lucky I am to have these kids disclose their status with me and welcome me into such a taboo and private part of their lives.

While the two other Hole in the Wall Consultants focused their energy and time on Logistics, Residential Life, and Medical together, I was fortunate enough to be in charge of the programming side of the camp. I worked with a good friend of mine named Symon the entire time. I mentored him as he worked with the other staff. We built a strong camp schedule and the activities were really fun…yet educational. ? How many jobs can you find where you get to wear plaid shorts yanked up to nobody’s business and hold an inflatable dolphin named Chiyembe while training a group of adults on policies and procedures. I am one lucky gal.

Symon is my Malawian brother and he made this experience way better than it would have been if he wouldn’t have been there. We share a lot of similar experiences. He is currently the Program’s Director for the Malawi Camp Hope and I just finished being the Program’s Director for Camp Sivivane in Swaziland the past two sessions for them. Now I am mentoring/training people in that position which is weird because it doesn’t feel like that long ago since I was caring those responsibilities. Symon and I could communicate through our minds which was awesome! I could just look at him and he would know what I was saying which is a rare thing to teach. We did a skit together where I was his hands (my really white hands against his brown face…awesome) and I fed him different things and brushed his teeth for him. People kept commenting how synchronized our actions and words were. Symon and I worked well together and I was so thankful for his positivity and flexibility. He also let me introduce a lot of crazy games like Mission Impossible and Humans and Aliens. When I had to spend 10 minutes explaining and acting out what an Alien is to staff so they can help explain to children in another language, I knew I was in the right job.
We worked with lots of teens who loved the games and activities in the program, but it was still hard to see some of the kids struggle with activities. A few of them also had cancer and it was so frustrating to watch them battle the effects of cancer while taking tablets for HIV at the same time. I just assumed one terminal was all one person should handle, but it became a harsh reality that it isn’t the case when I met some of these campers. I watched one boy in particular cry because his legs hurt after playing capture the flag. He loved to dance, but due to the tumors in his legs and having participated in so many running games and activities throughout the day by the time evening came, he wouldn’t be able to walk or dance. I felt so helpless for him because I didn’t know how to get him involved. Eventually staff members put him on their backs and gave him piggy back rides everywhere since the terrain wasn’t good enough for wheel chairs, but it was a learning experience for me and really humbling to see how lucky I am for my health. Also, it showed me how much stronger these campers are compared to me.

The campers and staff were amazing. They taught me Chichewa and let me practice on them throughout trainings and camp. They gave me a nickname before session one camp started. They called me, “Achimwali” which means “Sister” in Chichewa. Everyone is called sister “asisi” but they reserved the deep Chichewa name for me “Achimwali”. Soon all the campers started calling me Achimwali because the staff told them to call me that. Nicknames aren’t always as sweet and innocent, so I was happy to get that one. Better than some other names I’ve heard. Haha The teens would also translate for me when they sat next to me. One camper even repeatedly asked me to sit by him at meals. He was an 18 year old boy from the capital of Malawi who attended Teen Club. We had a lot of things in common. We like art and listen to similar music. His mom’s name was Jaclyn too. His is English was really good. He did stand up comedy at Stage Night and sat next to me the rest of the show. He hugged me on stage at awards night which was sweet. His favorite thing to do is draw and gave me his drawing book to look through. He had pictures of tennis shoes and kids from his school. Before he left camp he showed me a picture he had been drawing all week. It was a portrait of me! It had a nice little note written on it. It was so sweet and it kinda looked like me too! Although, I hope it isn’t too accurate. I’d like to think that I have more teeth than that and my eyes are similar in size. I haven’t seen a mirror in a while though, so things could have changed I suppose.

After camp we went to Lake Malawi. It was beautiful! We rented a car and went off roading in a tiny foreign car that scratched the floor whenever we hit a pothole…so constantly. Since it was Easter weekend, tons of Malawian families crowded the beaches. It was fun and we even met one of our campers and his family. It was adventure after adventure. We found a man who offered to take us out to an island and take us on a hike, provide lunch, and take us scuba diving for $100 for the three of us. We agreed and didn’t try to barter. He picked us up the next morning in front of our lodge on the beach scooping water from the bottom of the inside of his boat. First sign that we might not be with a professional guide or were overpaying. I just shrugged though and jumped in. He drove us to a fishing village and we ate lunch at his sister’s “restaurant”. She gave us each a boiled fish on rice with some boiled/salted seaweed while we sat inside her mud hut that had a grass roof tied on by a show string. Haha AWESOME. Sign two we were being over charged. Still continued the adventure. Toby (the name of the “guide”) walked us over to get scuba gear. Conveniently, Toby didn’t have all his gear so he returned to us in the boat with an old plastic cheap pair of goggles and a snorkel for the 3 of us to share. He proceeded to clean the mouth piece standing knee deep in the lake splashing lake water on it. Sign three. I laughed and continued the adventure. We got to the island and swam around. Toby asked to bring us on our “hike”. The island was the size of a large boulder with bushes hanging off of it. We climbed up the giant rock to the top, but there were no paths and the bushes leading to the top were covered in itchy thorns. Cora and Elizabeth had to jump in the water after the “hike” to remove the itch. Sign number four that this wasn’t a professional guide. Haha After swimming for a bit, Toby got, “tired of the water” which is bad when you are hanging out on an island so he made us go back early. He tried to drop us off at the fishing village and walk back to our hotel down the beach, but finally the three of us spoke up to our professional guide and told him he at least needed to drop us where he said he would. It was such a ridiculous and hilarious situation that I didn’t even care that I was being taken advantage of. I just told him, “Happy Easter” and got off the boat.

The adventure continued that evening. Our car broke down in front of an ATM where each of us girls took out money. The sunset and the stars came out and our car was surrounded by teenage boys. We couldn’t communicate with them and they didn’t know what jumper cables were, so we just helplessly let them take apart our rented car engine. Within an hour, a guy came with his car and did a few things to the car and we were on the road again. The boys didn’t ask for our money or anything. They just asked for our facebook account name. Fair trade if you ask me!

Tonight I am gong to a Sean Kingston concert. What an Easter adventure. This trip keeps getting crazier and crazier. I will let you know what happens. Wish you guys were here to enjoy it with me!

 

Jaclyn Schaap

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