Monday, September 5, 2016


5th SWTJ Summer Camp in Senmaya! 

August 2016

Thanks to the wide support of people from all over the nation, SWTJ has been able to again organize the SWTJ summer camp for Tohoku kids! This year, 16 elementary and junior high school-age children from Kesennuma spent three unforgettable days together with seven camp leaders from all over Japan.  
We were blessed with fine weather, there were no major incidents, and everybody had a good time.  
Some of the kids have now been participating in the camp several times, and the average age of the kids has increased. We have therefore for the first time introduced a junior leader system by which interested kids can apply to be assisting staff. The successful candidates were in charge of running the camp together with the senior staff.  

Day 1: August 13

We all gather at Senmaya Station at 8:45am.
Some kids have been with us in previous years, and some are here for the first time! Everybody is looking forward to the next three days.

'Hi, nice to meet you!' say some, 'Hi, so good to see you again!' say others.

Once on the train, boys naturally gather with boys, girls with girls. Everybody has lots of questions: 'What are we going to do today? Which leaders are leading the camp this year?'
Some fun introduction games break the ice.

After arrival at Senmaya Community Center, we hold self-introductions, and teams are formed.  Then we draw up a map and mark all the places from where supplies for the camp have been sent to us. We then test our geographic knowledge in a quiz.

'Oops, it's torn!" Concentration is needed.
In this workshop, we make a lampshade. We take off the thin foil layer from milk cartons, and then each child cuts out a shape of her liking. The lampshades will serve as decoration during tomorrow's O-Bon summer festival. We are looking forward to these original lighting features!

Today the kids are excited about the upcoming ghost night. But this time, things will be different from other years: the kids will be in charge of scaring us! We are staying overnight in an abandoned former elementary school- the perfect stage for such a game.
The junior leaders take the lead in drawing up a strategy for the ghost night. Everybody has lots of ideas, but when the time comes some kids voice concern. 'I'm afraid to hide away all alone!' Hiding places are everywhere: in the toilet, in the gym, in corners all over the place. 

Scared screams of the senior staff can be heard all over the old school! 
Look at the kids' faces to see how satisfied they are with their success! 

DAY 2: August 14

Great weather today, ideal for river-play!  It is wonderful to play in the cool water of the river. The junior leaders get up early, and prepare the rice balls and the barbeque for the day. They all do a really good job! 
Going down the river on the raft is great fun! The raft is always full.
The junior leaders tend to the BBQ.
Following the example of the junior leaders, the younger kids also start to help. Doing it yourself is fun! 
Jumping into the river or trying to catch fish- playing in nature lets us be ourselves and sets our minds free.
No fun outing without the watermelon splitting game! But this watermelon resists all our blindfolded efforts...

While we play at the river, we unexpectedly see the head of Senmaya Community Center going by. When he witnesses the activities we conduct with the kids, he is moved and promises to ensure increased support for the camp from now on. We are grateful for these words of encouragement and for the cooperative spirit of a representative of the local community.  

At night, like in previous years, we take part in the O-Bon summer festival of the local community! We make banners and products to sell, make sure everyone in each team knows exactly what they are in charge of, and open up three stalls. "How would you like a homemade takosen octopus cracker?"

Left: Cutting pineapple and oranges and making fruit skewers.
Right:  Preparing the lampshades made in the workshop. Looking forward to seeing how bright they will shine! 

Left: Making octopus-cucumber skewers with supplies donated by our sponsors.
Right: Lots of ideas! We make octopus-themed hairbands that highten our festival spirit!

The SWTJ trademark cotton candy is of course not missing!
How lovely our lanterns are! They were very popular with the local community.

No festival closure without fireworks! We try to use our  handheld fireworks to draw pictures into the night sky. 
Today is the last night, and the children don't feel like sleeping. 'Our only chance to meet and chat is at the camp...'

DAY 3: August 15

On our last day, we have a team sports tournament at the school's gym. Each team can show how strong the bonds are they have formed throughout the three days of the camp.

Three-way dodgeball tournament within a circle-marked area.
The 'Tokyo banana' sweets donated by the staff must be earned!!

In the afternoon, we clean up the facility where we were able to stay. Again, the junior leaders play a big role in organizing the work. 
Finally, some of the kids who chose to practice the sanshin in their free time (a musical instrument from the southern Japanese prefecture Okinawa) give a presentation of their new skills. One of the senior staff leaders who comes from Okinawa has taught them! So, we can all experience the song umi no koe (voice of the ocean) from a far-away area.

Keen learners of the Okinawan sanshin! Cultures are meeting in the SWTJ summer camp. Tohoku and Okinawa are on opposite sides of the Japanese nation and both feature diverse and unique cultural features.

Finally, it is time to leave. Before we say farewell, we ask each child to mention their impressions of the camp. We also ask the junior leaders how they feel about what they achieved, and whether they think they will be with us again next year. The senior staff cannot hide their joy when many of the junior assistants say they want to be leaders again next year!  

This year for the first time, we had kids who acted as junior leaders in the camp. As a result, communication within the three teams occurred naturally, and the kids often started activities without having to be told so. The kids in the camp have grown and changed, and so has our camp! We are really looking forward to seeing 'our' kids again in the camp next year! 

Finally, we would like to express our deep gratitude to all those who supported the SWTJ 2016 Summer Camp! 
We could never have organized it without your help.

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