ROMANIA: From Straja, with Love – VELUX Summer Camp 2019

To get from Botoșani to Straja – Hunedoara – I didn’t need a lot of things: my luggage, lots of patience, two means of transportation – a train and a bus – and nice people with whom to spend my time. I left Botoșani with the night train, together with my dearest colleagues Ana and Claudia and with our “mother”, Mrs. Petronia. As usual, during the trip we told funny stories and laughed our heads off, we’ve remembered our past summer camps and enjoyed our time together.

We arrived in Bucharest at 5 AM. Just when the sleep is deeper and sweeter, we had to get off the train, hardly succeeding to carry our luggage, after a journey that lasted over eight hours. We were very sleepy and hungry, perhaps because of the effort we had to put in pulling our big luggage. In the train station, we’ve met Nicola, another colleague from the VELUX Pedagogical Scholarship Program, who accompanied us. We had a lot of time to spare until the bus was scheduled to pick us from the station, and because we’ve started to feel really bored, we decided to leave the station and discover the area around it. First, we visited a small park near the station, where we took pictures and enjoyed the view. It quickly became less interesting for us so we left. We decided to visit the surroundings without having a real plan in our minds. We walked carelessly, admiring the tall buildings. A bookstore caught our attention. When we got near it, we realized it was closed. Disappointed, we went back to the station on the opposite side of the street, so that we could admire something else. At the station, we played Crane Game/Claw Machine where, as you probably know, if you’re lucky, you win. If not, you remain empty pocket, and that’s exactly what happened to us, too.

After our “exploration” ended, we returned and met another two girls (Bianca and Sorina). We also met Alexandra and so on, until we all gathered at the train station in Bucharest. We were waiting together for the bus that was to take us to our “home” for the next few days. Another long trip, that ended after ten hours. At first, on the bus, it was quiet, everyone was asleep or too shy to communicate with each other. Towards the end of the journey we sang, we had a DJ (Mr. Doru) and everything was different. We were full of life and good vibes, we knew this trip it’s going to be memorable. When we arrived in Straja, we were tired, but after we met the trainers, we smiled again. I traveled a lot, from one corner of the country to another, but it had totally worth it” – Catherine, a student in the XIth grade at the Pedagogical High School in Botosani.

 

Caty, as her colleagues call her, has recently returned from the summer camp organized by the Roma Education Fund Romania and financed by the VELUX Foundations. The camp took place in Straja, Hunedoara County, between May 25-29, 2019. Already in its third edition, this year’s VELUX Summer Camp was special. We wanted our students to develop new skills, in order to help them overcome their limits and fears. Caty is one of the 97 Roma students benefiting from the financial and academic support offered by the VELUX Foundations through the Pedagogy Scholarship Program. “Every year, I participated in the activities organized by Roma Education Fund Romania and I never regret it, because I have always learned new things. For the first two years, I learned about myself: who I am, what’s my people history, and how to become a better teacher. This year, I had the opportunity to increase my self confidence, to see if I can detach myself from my fears or if I let them dominate me completely. This summer’s activities have taught me an important thing: if you want to get others to trust you, you have to believe in yourself, too. As a future teacher, I need to inspire trust. Parents need to trust in my ability to do a good job, children have to trust me also, and, most of all, I have to believe in my own strength, which will help me fulfill my dreams”.

But gaining trust in herself was a process that was facilitated also by the activities organized by the New Horizons Foundation trainers, who have developed at Straja Life Camp, a special place where children can safely venture.

During the first two days of summer camp, the girls had many interesting activities. The Low Height Ropes Workshop was the most exciting one,  as the girls testified later. During the workshop, the students participated in two games of self-knowledge: Nitro Pass and Walking on the Cable. The purpose of the games was to capture the dynamics of the group and to determine the roles that each participant assumes in achieving the ultimate goal.

On the third day of the camp, students were challenged by the trainers to a treasure hunt. They ended the day with the “Reading Together” workshop.

But the real challenge was waiting for them during the fourth day of the camp when, after a rainy night and morning, the girls climbed the mountain again. In Life Camp, High Rope Challange was waiting for them. In spite of the cold, dense fog and the rain, the students participated in the activities proposed by the New Horizons team. They climbed the trees, passed a tree trunk, they flew. The purpose: to exceed personal limits and to meet the common goal.

“When I came to this summer camp, I wasn’t really confident in my own powers. I thought I couldn’t do what was expected of me. But in the end, I left the camp with a high confidence level. I enjoyed the activities very much. Even though I was often thinking of giving up, I continually motivated myself and I did not give up. I was afraid of hurting myself during certain activities, but I kept thinking that what it is to happen will happen, and I can not say NO until I’ll try it”- Mary, an eleven-grade student at the National Pedagogical College in Sibiu.

The Summer Camp ended with a carnival and a contest in which the girls successfully demonstrated their talents: theater, music, dance. The Roma Education Fund Romania Foundation together with the VELUX Foundations offered the girls a reward – as they were preparing to end the school year with very good grades – a laptop, backpacks and mountain equipment.

„Usually, I don’t make friends easily, because I am sensible and shy, but I can honestly say that, in this camp, I genuinely connected with my colleagues. The activities were very fun and somehow helped me discover another personality I didn’t know I have, a better and braver personality, who has the courage to try many new things, to say what she thinks. I am very grateful for this! I left the summer camp with a great deal of self-confidence. I have come to the conclusion that this program is not just a simple scholarship program in pedagogy, but consists of wonderful people who are ready to help you, who are there for you, from whom you have a lot to learn, basically … a Second Family” – Sorina, a student in the 10th grade at the National Pedagogical College in Mehedinti.

„I left the camp with a few regrets because it was hard for me to break up with all the girls. I interacted with each and every one of them during and after the activities. It was a beautiful experience! We learn a lot about pedagogy and out-door learning activities for children, many games that I will use in my future teaching career.  The Romani classes have also helped me a lot” – Denisa, a student in the 10th grade at the Ion Creangă High School in Tulcea county.

„Before leaving for the summer camp, I was under the impression that it’s not going to be a good experience for me. Being a withdrawn person, I thought it would be more difficult for me this year, than the previous ones, that I wouldn’t socialize enough. I was wrong. This camp has helped me to open up and socialize more, and to discover new things about me. The fact that I went to this summer camp will help me in my future career – as a teacher – because I’ll be more open with the children, more sociable, and I’ll be able to interact more with them. The Pedagogy Scholarship Program helped me financially and emotionally” – Larisa, a 12th-grade student at Salaj Pedagogical High School.

I have to admit that the activities in the Life Camp were my favorite. I experienced things that I never thought I would ever do. I had the opportunity to be part of a group of wonderful people who have always encouraged me and were next to me. The Pedagogy Scholarship Program means the world to me because it helped me cover my school expenses, and for this, I can only thank the wonderful people who are part of this project” – Alexandra, an 11th-grade student at Pedagogical High School in Braila.

„The summer camp activities were far beyond my expectations. I mean, I still can believe that I climbed 7 feet above the ground and flew like a squirrel with the help of the camp organizers. Besides, I trust myself more now, because of the camp’s activities. I discovered I have a lot more courage than I knew I have, and that I am much more ambitious” – Anamaria, a student in the 11th grade at the Pedagogical High School in Botosani.

„For me, the Pedagogy Scholarship Program means, in only one word: JOY. Joy because I managed to know part of the REF team, joy because I met and made new friends, joy because it helped me to perfect myself in a field I don’t really have knowledge about. Thank you, REF!” – Andra, a student in the 10th grade at Andrei Mureşanu High School in Brasov.