One week. It only took one week for the kids to really take a hold of our hearts at Eglinton. I don’t think we go a day without talking about our kids and how much we care about them… even on our off days! After being away for two days, we were blowing up our group chat, talking about every kid and how much we already missed them. With that said, don’t be surprised if you read a blog post in a couple weeks talking about how I sad I am to leave here!
Now, I do not want to mislead you. The kids are a handful (and then some!) and require much attention. On average, our ratio is about one adult to every two children and still we feel like we are being pulled in very direction. One kid wants to play football (soccer), then a kid wants me to watch them jump rope, and at the same time a kid requires my ear as they tell me some “secret” which is usually about one kid “liking” another. Oh and if I were to ever sit or kneel on the ground, at least four kids are likely to be running full speed towards me only ceasing because they proceeded to jump on top of me. So yeah, quite chaotic, pretty hectic, extremely exhausting, and super worth it (yeah I made this my title because nothing captures my feelings quite like this).
I am a part of the morning team, Camp CABAM, and by the end of the first week, we had the schedule down to the minute. We begin with Brennah reading a book as the children enter and place their shoes and jackets in a cubby. Next, we sing songs together, and then do the following three things (in a different order every day to keep the kids a bit on their toes): go outside to the car park or the actual park, stay inside for an activity, and show our creativity through crafts! Somewhere in the mix, we will have a snack composed of biscuits (basically crackers), fruit, and water. The day concludes with either an indoor activity such as musical statues or reading with Brennah. Putting this schedule together has had its kinks, but now that our team has learned to use each of our strengths, and we are a well-oiled machine!
The week had its ups and downs as we had to learn how to respond to each child in the most effective ways. We realized quickly that we needed to balance being their friend with being their leader each day. By the end of the first day, one of our supervisors brought to our attention that we needed to “find our voice.” This means finding the way to talk to the children, so they will listen and obey while having fun and enjoying the summer camp. I believe that after bit of exploration, each of us have found our voices and while they are different, they stabilize the camp.
By the end of the week I had completed the following: gotten completely own by kids half my size while playing soccer for over eight hours; witnessed my kiddos dancing to Level Up by Ciara in such a synchronized level that it looked like a professional music video; received more than my fair share of snot, spit and tears as kids cried from being hurt or in trouble; and eaten ice cream at least three times as comfort food/ a pat on the back. Overall, a long yet life-changing week.
Deviating from my placement at Eglinton (my placement is my primary focus these three weeks so I have a lot to say about it), our group had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Belfast and receive a personal tour around the city, soaking in the history of incredibly recent events that have taken place there. We saw first-hand the divisions in Northern Ireland between Catholics/Nationalists/Republicans and Protestants/Unionists/Loyalists. There are walls that physically divide parts of the city and Loyalists were building bonfires to burn on July 12th as part of the Orange marches/parades (this is a celebration for the Protestants of overthrowing the Catholics). It was mentioned that Ireland’s flag would be placed at the top of the bonfire to be burned. This hatred and division led to my own thoughts about the United States. We have such division between political parties, races, religions, and more. We like to think that we have overcome much of these divisions as they may not be quite as obvious as bonfires and walls, but we haven’t. I mention this for I constantly have been comparing the culture in Ireland to the culture in the States.
Our tour was headed by two men who have endured persecution since they were members of the Irish Republican Army. One of the men was part of the Hunger Strike in the mid 1970s and was in a coma for 70 days due to the lack of nutrition. Overall, we were astounded, intrigued, and a little horrified by they stories these men told and I am so appreciative of their willingness to share their lives in this way. We were even shown a radio they used while in prison (which they had to sneak in- I’ll let you guess how).
After the tours, we were on our own for the evening so like any Titanic enthusiast, I decided the Titanic Experience in Belfast (the city where the Titanic was built) was a must see. We were against the clock trying to absorb as much information and see everything we could before the place closed but it was well worth every minute. As a souvenir, I bought a replica mug that third class passengers would have used on the Titanic. Once we set out from the Titanic Experience, a few of us made our way to C.S. Lewis Square and took some amazing pictures with Aslan! Thinking about all that was accomplished within that one day alone, it might have been one of the best days of my life (or at least a contender).
Reflecting on the week (because we do copious amounts of reflecting on this study abroad), I noticed that the moments I have had negative feelings have been due to exhaustion. We go non-stop all day long and endure many challenges which is extremely tiring. Yet even in these moments of discontent, I still have much more to be thankful for. The negatives can’t even begin to compare to the positives. I get to travel to new places and see God’s beautiful creation in Ireland; I have a homestay that is so welcoming and caring with sisters that care about me; I have been healthy (for the most part); I haven’t gotten homesick (yet); I am making an impact on the children at Eglinton and they are making an impact on me; and I get to do all of this with friends who I have grown so close to. There are struggles and barriers, but I have not had to go through any of them alone.