Well, it has been a heck of a week! We had the opportunity to supervise the students’ leadership and survival camps for the past few days. After several days in the hot, humid, mosquito-infested Indonesian jungle, I am quite covered in mosquito bites but only slightly sunburned. Oh well, such is life… the experience was certainly worth a few bug bites!
We started off on Saturday at survival camp for grade 11. The goal of this camp is teach the students to survive in the worst conditions possible… literally in the jungle, living off the land. As we drove to the campsite, it was clear that we were in a new part of Indonesia. The roads were no longer paved (yes, we saw the stereotypical dirt roads) and they were littered with holes and puddles. When we arrived, the students were in the middle of outdoor orientation where they were not allowed to speak. It was truly amazing to see a group of 40 11th graders completely silent and engaged in what they were doing.
After orientation, we walked about a mile and a half to the actual campsite. The students were busy learning how to make their personal tents out of ponchos, so we sort of just hung out. We were sitting around (trying to stay in the shade) when we realized that we had no idea where the other teachers were. Teachers weren’t in charge of the camp, there were guides who were running everything. All of a sudden, one of the teachers came and found us and told us that we didn’t have to stay at the campsite with the students. All the other teachers were about a 10 minute walk away, staying in a house. WHAT!?! You mean we don’t have to sleep on the ground with only a poncho as our tent?! So we walked over to the house where the other teachers were staying where we found a house, a hammock, shade, and delicious food and water. I was so relieved!!
After feasting on DELICIOUS fresh fish, we headed back to the student campsite. When we arrived, it was a very interesting experience. Guides were yelling at students, criticizing them and breaking them down. I have never been in the military (nor do I ever have plans to join), but I can imagine that it was something like what boot camp is… an intense exercise in conditioning that strengthens both the mind and the body. Students were building their tents. Essentially, they were taught how to use a poncho, a couple sticks, and some twine to build a one-person tent. They would be sleeping on the bare ground with no blankets, pillows, pads or anything. Talk about roughin’ it! After tents were finished, the students and staff who are Muslim–which is most people–took time for their evening prayer. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Muslims pray five times each day facing Mecca, and it was truly wonderful to see this done outside, at dusk.
After prayer, it was dinner time. Students were given only a small amount of food and water that was to be rationed over three days. They were split into groups of 8-10 students and cooked their own food using one pot. They were required to eat all food off of banana leaves and were not given any utensils except for one spoon used to stir their rice. As they ate, they were instructed not to waste a single grain of rice. Quite a feat if you ask me! As students were cooking, we walked around and talked with them. One of the highlights for me and the students was when Nick decided to perform a song for everyone. He rapped “Ice Ice Baby,” and it was completely hilarious. The students provided backup vocals (dun dun dun duh duh dun dun – duh dun dun dun duh duh dun dun) while Nick recited every word to the song.
It was time for bed, so we headed back to the house. Then, the rain came. It proceeded to pour (like torrential downpour) for about 6 hours. I was safe under a roof, but I can’t say the same for the students. They were stuck in their tiny little poncho-tents sleeping on the bare ground. When we met up with the students that morning, I didn’t hear one complaint–not one student whining. It was honestly inspiring to see their discipline and strength of character. However, I’m not sure it’s fair to require a group of 16-year-olds to adapt to such harsh conditions. In America, that would never fly. In fact, I’m sure there would have been a lawsuit if such a situation arose in the US. I know I would have made myself sick if I had to sleep in those conditions. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for me, and the students of Sampoerna Academy must be so proud of themselves for making it through the whole camp–I’m certainly proud of them.
We only spent one night with grade 11, then we came back to Palembang early Sunday evening. On Tuesday, it was back to the jungle (further away this time) for grade 10’s leadership camp. Once we arrived there, it was a whole different atmosphere. The main goal of this camp is to build confidence and improve teamwork skills. Students are split into houses with different animal names. I become the “house mother” for the eagles (we fly high!) during camp, and they were awesome. Their house cheer consists of an acronym they made from “eagle” which is “Enjoyable, Amazing, Gorgeous, Lovely, Educated. To end the cheer, they
say “we fly high!” and make eagle noises while flapping their arms like birds. It’s awesome! I had a ton of fun watching them complete various team challenges and group games. One of the hardest challenges took place in the mud and water. Each team had to fill a large pipe that had holes all over it to the top with water. All team members had to get in the water and plug the holes while a couple team members used small cups to fill the pipe. It was very messy, but I think they had a lot of fun! The only downside to these activities is that they were all outside in a completely open space with no protection from the sun. I managed to limit my sunburn to my face and arms, so I was pretty lucky. It took me less than an hour to start turning pink. Sunscreen is definitely a necessity when you’re this close to the equator!
On day two of leadership camp, students were to participate in the “high rope” activity. When I heard this, I thought that meant they were going to climb a high rope or do a ropes course or something. It turns out that they were going zip-lining! How fun is that?! We got to do it once the students were done, and it was a great time. It was a little scary jumping off the side of a tall building, but it was totally worth it! I highly suggest that anyone does it if they ever have the opportunity!
Another highlight of the leadership camp was this random elephant that was in the field where we were doing activities. We managed to get pretty close (it had a chain around it’s legs), and it was a lot of fun. You don’t see random elephants just hangin out in the US!
For those of you who are still reading this, awesome. I know it’s been really really long… sorry about that! There was just too much information, and I didn’t want to split it into two posts! It’s been a pretty intense week, but I’m glad I’ve been able to do everything that I’ve done. The students here surprise me every day with the courage, and I’m learning so much from this experience!