It is difficult to put into words what makes the Teenagers Camp so special. The camp is still in its youth; it was created in 2013 when PSE realized that activities needed to be adapted to suit children older than 15, and it was immediately apparent that a lot could be accomplished with this camp. That is, the 15- to 20-year-olds are arguably at their most vulnerable age, an age at which they can easily be influenced into extremely dangerous situations like prostitution, gang violence or the drug trade. These are children who often grow up with alcoholic parents, or parents that are absent, violent or deceased. Their parent’s trauma is a result of the past 30 years of devastating turmoil in Cambodia. Therefore, these are children who have no authoritative figures in their lives, children who have no models to follow as they mature into adults. Within the teenager summer camp, the monitors can construct true relationships with them, and offer them an educative dimension aiming to change their lives and perspectives in the long term. These are only some of the reasons why we consider the summer camp to be so valuable to them.
Raquel Quejido, the coordinator of the Teenagers’ camp this year, agrees that there is a great deal of work that can be done with them. She was a little apprehensive at the beginning because “the teenagers can be very demanding and even judgemental with the monitors and the activities we organise”. For her the biggest challenge of directing the Teenagers’ camp is to have an impact, and to really insist on the educational aspect of the activities. This can be very difficult due to the language barrier. The aim really is to transmit core values like the importance of education and thinking about the future, and working towards this future. “The summer camps, in my opinion, are an ideal environment for relaying these messages and having an impact, because I think the teenagers are a lot more receptive in a fun atmosphere like this one, where they feel good. It works really well in that way. What’s more, the teenagers really admire the European monitors, we truly are models to them, and I always tell my team that we need to be an example, to be conscious of the image we are projecting at all times.”
It might be difficult for the European monitors in the camp to truly realise the home environments that the teenagers live in, because they are very tidy, dress nicely and are very reserved about themselves and their families. They are at the age of pride; they want to make a good impression on the monitors. An old monitor who worked in the teenagers camp before had the opportunity to visit one of the teenagers’ homes, and witnessed with dismay how his jovial, outgoing attitude during the day didn’t erase the fact that he slept in a 20 square-meter room with 8 other people every night, with no running water or electricity, surrounded by trash, mud and vermine. His father drove a tuk-tuk and his mother sold snacks on the road from 6am to 5pm, at which point he took over the stand until 9pm after he finished the summer camp. Raquel also believes that “it is extremely important for us to attempt to understand where these children come from; as a start, I am pushing my team to go pick up the children from their homes in the mornings on the PSE buses”.
Despite these issues, the teenagers camps is a real success, and you only have to witness their delight at trying skateboards for the first time, trying on boxing gloves, making crepes or swimming in the deep end of the Olympic swimming pool to understand how much they are enjoying the camp. The teenagers also attended talks given by the medical project team on Wednesday, where they listened attentively to medical students speak about how to best avoid infectious diseases and how different drugs affect the body in harmful ways. These types of workshops are planned out for every week of the summer camp, putting into action the educational dimension that Raquel envisioned.
To Tito and Marcos, two first-year monitors of the camp, what makes the teenagers unique is “how caring and friendly they are”. They also added that “the best way to teach them lessons is through examples. If we want them to have better relationships with their group, we must show our efficient team work as monitors. If we want them to be more tidy and organised, we must start by picking up the rubbish and asking them to help us to put away the material we use in the activities.”
Kandek Nearirath, a Khmer monitor, said that she loves working with the teenagers, because she can understand their characters better and be a teacher figure for them. “I want them to learn to love studying and learning, and help them to improve their lives”. Besides, with the summer camp, Nearirath can improve her English and live new experiences by working with people from a completely different culture. “Overall, this is a true learning experience for me as well as for the teenagers. I’m really thankful I heard about the PSE summer camps and applied to work here”.