Envision the worst rainstorm you have experienced. Three days of torrential downpours, black skies, bitter wind. What would be your ideal activity for such a weekend? Curl up with a good book in front of the fire? Rent videos and lounge on the couch? Well, for myself and a group of twelve Vietnamese youth, these were the conditions we faced as we embarked on our first youth leadership camp weekend.
These youth had never been camping before and we had been planning this weekend for five months. As they all piled into the vans, I was trying to keep my disappointment in check. They were happy and excited in the back, eagerly discussing the campfires they wanted to have and the activities we would enjoy. Listening to their excited chatter my heart began to fall, knowing that their plans were not going to come through. I knew that rainstorms and outdoor campfires just don’t mix; but did they?
As the weekend progressed, I kept waiting for the complaining to begin. We were all wet, or rather, soaked to the bone, and yet the kids still wanted to be outside. We played soccer in the mud, flashlight tag at night, and completed all of our training activities outdoors as planned.
By Saturday evening the realization hit me that these youth were not going to complain! The conditions for our camp were the least desirable we could have had, yet they loved the experience. None of them had even been “in the wilderness” before and they were not going to miss a minute of it just because of the weather. Their attitudes reminded me that an experience truly is what you make of it, not what the conditions are that surround it. I had been so disappointed that they were missing out on the real camp experience, that I was missing what they were experiencing.
Our campsite comprised two rustic cottages on a lake, and one of them had an old stone fireplace. The youth really wanted a campfire, so we set off in search of dry wood. It was a two-hour scavenger hunt through the forest to find dry, covered pockets of wood that would burn, but we found it. One of the best activities we shared that weekend was finally peeling off the layers of drenched clothing, and sitting around the indoor fire in our pajamas, drinking hot chocolate and eating smores. For anyone not familiar with smores, they are graham crackers, with chocolate and a toasted marshmallow inside – a very sweet treat – and a North American camping tradition. Of the twelve youth, only four decided they liked them, but all tried it, and added one more new adventure to their trip.
Sunday afternoon, as the vans were being packed and we climbed on board to begin the two-hour drive back to Ottawa, the sun began to peak out behind the clouds.
'It figures”, I said, “just as we are leaving, the sky clears up.”
“That’s okay Steph,” one of the young women replied, “I wouldn’t trade seeing you soaking wet and dripping for anything in the world.”
The others all nodded in agreement as we drove down the lane toward the highway.