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Day 3: Fun

At camp we play a ton of ultimate.  Discs soar through the air at any given moment.  It is a part of our unique UP culture and part of what helps define it is a focus on the 5 values, which are intertwined into everything we do. Today we will focus on fun! 

It actually started the night before with the North American LITs (Leaders in Training) organizing an olympic evening. It kicked off by a round of flags and cheers created on the first day as a team bounding activity. Followed by well-known fun games: wha, human pyramid, hoola-hoops, races, and so on. What a fun time to reinforce team connections and one of UP value.
And then next day, today, our 1st year Middle Eastern LITs provided a special morning program. These incredible young adults coordinated more than 2 hours of activities for the whole camp, with dozens of work hours and training to achieve success! Under the hot sun, we were challenged to all types of funkyness: dancing, singing, karaoke, an agility course, and a slip & slide with layouts!

This same sun brings us beautiful sunsets we can enjoy after dinner during field time.  Here discs flow through the air while speakers blow music in the air, inviting everyone to join the fun through dance. No need for translation as music is the language of our soul.

I can hear more music along with the splashes and laughter from the swimming pool. Nothing could be more refreshing and thrilling, than the gigantic human whirlpool we created all together, throwing laughter in the air, as round and round we go.

And that is not all! Every afternoon the kids can attend a club to prepare for the talent show.  These include music, dance, photography, gymnastics & acroyoga. Or they can choose different activities like throwing games, freestyle frisbee, slacklining, yoga, and art conducted by coaches with multiple interests!

Finally the truth is that ultimate frisbee is FUN.

Running, catching, throwing, offence, and defence are FUN.

Drills, games, huddles, and spirit games are FUN.

Dancing, cheering, high fives, connecting are FUN.

Now you can see why FUN became one of UP values, present at all time as it enhances our playing through stronger connection. No need to wonder why we love our sport so much and its uplifting spirit.

Day 2: Mutual Respect

Day 2: Mutual Respect

Brown eyes. Blue eyes.

We don’t always have words.  For instance, what are the ways we show love? Or appreciation? How can people communicate without speaking the same language? There are moments and situations that do not require the languages of our raising.  Here we return to our first native, human tongues: a smile, our eyes, our bodies.  These need no translation.  

Bright Eyes.  Eager eyes.

I close my eyes.  I take three breaths to prepare.  I open my eyes and they meet the eyes of one of my campers.  There is a jolt of surprise as our eyes meet.  We quickly avert our focus elsewhere, I chose his hairline.  Then we slowly bring our eyes back to meet.  Am I afraid what my camper will see?  My fear to be discovered as imperfect? Me, with my soul laid bare? 

Happy eyes.  Curious eyes.

But we continue our task. Time slows.  Maybe only a second has passed and my thoughts are flying.  But then, yes, I see it!  The corner of my camper’s mouth, once so serious, curls upwards, his cheeks now have dimples, there are laughter lines next to his eyes. There is delight there and I feel it too as my face transforms into a huge grin. I have glimpsed a part of his world. After 10 seconds we move on to the next team member to experience their world. In the depths of our eyes we have known each other for years.  It is here, eye to eye, that we can find mutual respect and see people as people.

Relaxed eyes.  Teary eyes. 

It starts with the connection between one camper and coach, then moves to the team, then it moves to a new community.  In the words of David Barkan, the Director of Ultimate Peace, “My mission is to impact thousands of young people by helping them transform the way they see one another and the world – so they can change it.” Look people in the eye with mutual respect and meet them in a language we all understand.  We want to change the world. We don’t always need words.

Day 1: Welcome and Friendship

Buses arrive, kids come out and the magic begins. They enter the UP world underneath a thatched roof of clapping hands, singing and dancing. Teams and rooms are assigned as youth hop on the bright field where music and festivities continue in a maelstrom of joy. Hands are shaken, ecstatic hugs are exchanged, discs fly — everywhere games are played, stories from the year are exchanged, and new friends are introduced to old ones.

But in the midst of this, loneliness can be found. Like a young Hebrew speaking girl attending camp for the first time and knowing no one from her community. Fear was easily seen as she kept her gaze down, her voice inaudible and her hands stretching her t-shirt continuously. Her desire to be part of the team was there, and yet, she felt without a friend.

After the first practice, a raucous dinner and more celebrating on the fields, this same shy girl says to our overwhelming surprise with total confidence and a huge smile, that her biggest fear was to come to camp knowing no one, and her biggest joy was to have found a new best friend in the sympathy of a sweet, supportive Arabic speaking girl.

The intensity of this friendship and the way it blossomed was so unbelievable that we asked a few questions to the two girls, hugging each other in between each of them.

First of all, can you explain how you talk together without speaking the same language?

Shared:
لقد تواصلنا عبر حركات اليدين، تحديداً عندما لا افهم بعض كلماتها باللغة العبرية
(We can also communicate by hand signals when I don’t understand her words in Hebrew)

And so you understand a bit of Hebrew?
Shared: Yes

And Noa, you only speak Hebrew? (she understands a bit of english)
Noa: Yes.

What happened at the beginning for you to become friends?

Noa:
את ישבת לבד וגם היא הייתה בלי אף אחד ורצית להכיר אותה ֫ יותר כי היא מעריצי תמיד נראתה נחמדה
(I used to sit alone and I noticed that Shared also had nobody. I wanted to know her because she looked cute)

Hugs and Shared whispers a “I love you.”

Shared:
لقد سألتني عن اسمي وعن عمري وبلدي واجبتها ، وبدأنا بالحديث من غير ان نشعر بالوقت وأصبحنا نشجع بعضنا البعض ، وحاولت قدر المستطاع مساعدتها على الضحك لانها خجولة ، ومع الوقت بدأت ترقص مع فرقتنا وقد فعلت الكثير من الاشياء المرحة
(Noa came to me and asked my name, age and where I came from. Then we started to motivate each other and bring each other up. Noa also helped me to become less shy and now I am dancing!)

What is special about your new friend?

Shared:
نستمر بالضحك طوال الوقت ونمرح معاً ، لاننا جئنا لهذا المخيم لكي نمرح حتى بالأوقات العصيبة والمتعبه ، فنحن نبقي روحنا الرياضية عالية
(We always have a smile on our faces and laugh and our goal is just to be happy and always look at the bright side even when we are tired.)

Noa:
שיש לי על מי
לסמוך שאני לא לבד
שיש לי פה חברה שתומכת ומאמינה בי
(It is good to know that I have a friend that helps and supports me and that I can rely on).

And now how do you feel after meeting each other?

Noa: Fine.
Shared: Perfect.

They went on playing happily again, leaving us full of sweet and strong emotion, driven by their pure love and care for each other, regardless of all the barriers we thought might keep them apart.

That is why we are here at Ultimate Peace camp; to make new connections, sometimes leading to unlikely and unexpected friendship.

Peace. Salaam. Shalom.

Connections

It’s a powerful sight to behold the formidable line of UP Summer Camp staff stretching for 40 meters holding hands.  We are a line of visionaries, world changers, the leaders of today and tomorrow, beautiful individuals, and pure energy.  We are Coaches, LITs (Leaders-In-Training), North American, European, Middle Eastern, new and seasoned — and we are united by purpose.

In the middle of gathering, meetings, chatting, this activity brought the reality of our outside lives into our little bubble. Our differences pull us apart, creating tension. Our eyes are opened to the inevitable truth of backgrounds and experiences we cannot choose, things that could divide us. Regardless, we hold on to each other, our beliefs, and our trust to uphold Ultimate Peace.

We see the incredible power that unites us through our diversity and give a voice to the idea of connection.  Together as we stand in our line each in our own place, we remain connected.  We are one beautiful team holding each other UP!

Today we get our Summer Camp Campers. We will work tirelessly to connect these individuals to be part of our powerful and beautiful human chain through the five core values of Ultimate Peace: FUN, FRIENDSHIP, INTEGRITY, MUTUAL RESPECT, and NON-VIOLENCE.

Looking Back

I’ve been home for a few days now. People keep asking me, “How was camp?” To which I can’t really respond with anything other than (albeit sincerely) “Camp was incredible.  The kids are amazing.  I’m so lucky to get to work with so many hard-working, committed coaches and staff and to coach such wonderful kids.”

That’s what I say, and it’s true, but these people (my friends and family, who I love very much) ask me this question with no idea how loaded it is: how I can’t answer that question no matter how hard I try – for the words I say in that casual conversation cannot express the memories it brings up, the lump that rises to my throat, and the tears that threaten to fill my eyes when I try to answer.  I usually stutter before I can get any words out, and even when they do come it’s incredibly frustrating.  Because I can’t answer such a simple question about camp.  Camp is worth so much more than one simple answer.  I’m tearing up now as I write, and my mind is back out on the fields, working with one camper on her forehands, cheering on the team in the final game of the tournament, swatting away bugs as I throw disc after disc for a game of 500.  In my mind’s eye I am not sitting in my own bed but rather I’m walking into my dorm room, ready for a cold shower.  I’m walking to the dining hall for breakfast, wishing I’d had more time to sleep but looking forward to the day.  I’m talking to my co-coaches about the drills and expectations for the day.  I’m watching my team – my multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious team come together right before my eyes.

I’m still in the “Post-Camp Haze,” as another coach so rightly called it.  Granted, this is the first time I’ve been in the States in four months, so I’m sure the reverse culture shock is a little more extensive than it would be had I only gone to camp and come home, but I can’t seem to pull myself out of “camp-mode.”  I’ve been enjoying the home-cooked meals and my own room, yes, but I feel as though I am in a cloud.  This was my fourth summer with Ultimate Peace, but still I find myself in shock, in utter shock, at the incredible feat we have managed to put together.  Because of our work, lives have changed.  Others’ and our own.  We have made a difference.  I believe in the power of making differences with small acts of gratitude and kindness every day, but this is different.  These past few weeks I have been a part of something far, far bigger than myself and I couldn’t be more grateful.  I couldn’t be more proud: of myself, of my teams from each camp, of my co-coaches, the whole staff, and the entire UP community.  Let’s take a look at what we’ve accomplished.  Granted, it’s only a few examples, but if I didn’t cut myself off this post would never end.

A girl on my Summer Camp team – the youngest member – told the group at our last practice that she had improved more than she ever thought could be possible.  She isn’t a particularly experienced player.  She has good instincts but her throws showed that she was a new player.  Her biggest problem was confidence; she was a quiet, timid girl, and if a throw went wrong, she put her hands up to her face and hid behind them, embarrassed.  Five short days later, she was throwing not only with more skill but with more confidence.  The two go hand in hand and I am proud to say that that was not only the work of the coaches but also the work of her teammates’ encouragement and support. We – a collective we – gave her not only Ultimate but a chance to grow as a person, and I can’t imagine anything better than that.

Another girl from Summer Camp told the team at our last meeting, with tears in her eyes, that she didn’t want to leave.  That we were a family and the girls were her sisters.  She told us we were making a difference and she thanked the team.  She spoke quiet and poignant words in beautifully accented English, in words I cannot capture.  I had been worried about this particular camper earlier on, because she was very quiet, and tended to take a step back and observe what was happening around her.  She was attentive; it wasn’t that she didn’t want to join the team – it was more that she was by nature more reserved and, kind of like me, found it in that nature to take a step back, watch carefully, and quietly analyze.  I had been worried that her more reserved demeanor would make it difficult for her to fit in with the team.  Clearly, however, she had found her place.  She had found her place and expanded herself far beyond its confines.  I had the opportunity to meet this camper’s mother at the end of camp, who told me that her daughter had loved camp.  That she’d had the most wonderful time, and in response I tried to say that I loved her, that I was so happy and so lucky to have her daughter on my team, but I couldn’t get the words out.  They were too heavy to flow freely, weighed down with the sadness that came with saying goodbye.  It was okay, though, mother and daughter understood the love I was trying to express, for it was something they felt in their own hearts.

One of the CITs in my group shared with the team what had been her biggest fear going into the camp, which was that some of her campers might say they were too tired to participate, or not always want to play.  This group, however, she said, had made that fear irrelevant.  They made it a non-issue, as they were ready to go and enthusiastic and eager all the time.  Another of the CITs said that her biggest fear had been that her group wouldn’t come together as a team: that their differences would prove too difficult to overcome.  But they had cured her of that fear early on.

One of the more experienced players on our team, who at first had seemed a little overwhelmed at being surrounded by so many others who were in many ways very different than she, had stepped up as a leader.  At first, she was quiet and kept to herself and the friends with whom she had arrived at the beginning.  By the end of camp, she had stepped up as a leader not only in play on the field, but vocally as well.  She was a competitive girl, but often chose to step off the field to give her teammates a chance to play.  She led cheers, she played with her heart and soul, and she became more confident in herself.  At our last meeting, she told the team how proud she was of them all.  She told them with tears in her eyes that they had all stepped up and risen to the challenge presented by that final game.

At the end of every camp, the staff chooses a “Starting 7.” This is a group of campers who have stood out for their leadership, effort, and enactment of our 5 values: mainly, for Spirit. We chose a member of our team, an experienced player.  We chose her not for her skills but for the ways in which she had carried our team by encouraging others, playing fairly, giving everything she had in games, and showing Spirit on and off the field to teammates, opponents, and strangers alike.  When her name was called in front of the whole camp and she went onstage with the others, I couldn’t see her face.  But when she left the stage, she walked past my seat, and I saw an image I’ll never forget: Tears streaming down her face and an expression of something so much deeper than happiness, gratitude, and pride emanating from within.

The tears started again for me too, at that moment.  This meant so much to her.  When she looks back, she won’t see this as some silly award from some sports camp.  This moment, this camp, played a role in the person she was choosing to become. These moments, these camps, have played and will always continue to play a role in all of our hearts; they guide us towards our best selves and towards the differences we now know we can make.

These are the moments we create at camp.  These are the types of attitudes we foster.  This is why I can’t explain camp in a casual conversation.  It’s too much, it’s too life-changing to be captured in anything less than a long, heartfelt discussion (or blog post).  All of these moments I have brought to light-they are just a few of the many, many hundreds of moments we see every single day at camp.  What I have found in my past four summers of Ultimate Peace is that these kids – these brilliant, hardworking, and Spirited kids – have a whole world of potential to give. We don’t give anything new to these incredible, incredible kids with whom we work; rather, we simply give them the opportunities to shine.  We only bring out what is already within.  And we couldn’t be more blessed to have the chance to do so.