Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reymontowka Summer Camp August 14-28, 2010

Thought of the Day: Don’t cry that it’s over, be happy that you did it.

We woke up to a cloudy rainy day. Once again, we had yet another yummy breakfast before us. Today is our last day and we were all sad that our two weeks just flew by.

First thing I did was to go to the computer room and make sure that I was ready for my last day of teaching. To my surprise, Alice and Marianne had the same thing in mind. Together with Dorota, we were all up in the computer room preparing for our classes.

When the first period began at 9:30 am, the students in each group practiced their Friday presentations and tried to polish up their English with their last day of lessons. The last two sessions of the morning were spent doing different games/activities. Alice was in charge of drawing/coloring. The campers came up with beautiful drawings of trees and flowers. Marianne was manning the card tables. Kinga and Mira were doing friendship bracelets. Marvin was the king of “Simon Says.” Kamila, Ania and Eli were doing party games. Ivy was in-charge of the Uno table. Dorota oversaw all the activities. Once again, it was a successful and enjoyable program.

After another delicious lunch, Marianne and Kinga helped Dorota clean the computer/supply room. Before we knew it, we had dinner at 5:00 pm since the presentation of the students was scheduled for 6pm. Everyone commented on the delicious fish.

Parents started coming before 6pm. The presentation was another five star production. It opened with Alice’s class singing “If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.” It was so cute with each camper drawing a happy face. Alice had her own happy face. Next was Ania and Issac’s class doing “Hokey Pokey.” Marianne’s group sang “It’s a Wonderful World,” accompanied by props of a beautiful rainbow and roses. Mira and Kinga’s group did a skit of a typical day in New York. Ivy’s students also did a skit of “Are We Ready,” where the bus never got rolling cause each kid had something to do and finally the bus driver forgot the keys to the bus. Marvin’s group did tongue twisters with props. Finally, Eli and Kamila’s group did two versions of New York New York, one by Frank Sinatra and one by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. The evening closed with a bonfire and barbeque for the families of the campers.

All agreed the two weeks was a rousing success.

Thought for the Day: Determination gives you the resolve to keep going in spite of the roadblocks that lay before you.

After classes today the volunteers made a trip to Majdanek, the Nazi Concentration Camp in Lublin.

The volunteers (without nine year old Isaac who stayed behind but with the teacher Kinga) ate their lunch sandwiches in the van. We saw a thirty minute orientation movie about the rise of the Nazis and this Concentration Camp. A private guide, who had been engaged by one of the volunteers, brought us around the camp, explaining in English how the camp worked and how the various buildings functioned. He explained that when the Soviets liberated Majdanek, the Nazis had no time to destroy the buildings and accordingly this was what was unique to Majdanek. It is the only Concentration Camp that is still fully functional and so it is the only camp throughout Europe that has the original gas chambers still intact. Unfortunately, the kitchen had burned down about three weeks and ago and the fire is under investigation. Our guide explained how the Jewish people were treated harsher than other prisoners and that some 60,000 had been gassed after which their bodies were burnt in either funeral pyres or ovens. At the same time we were there, a group of about 50 Israeli high school students were also touring the concentration camp. It was uplifting to see them proudly carrying their large Israeli flags, thereby underscoring the stark reality that the ashes of those Jewish people who died during the holocaust were the seeds to the birth of the State of Israel in 1948.
On the way home, we passed through Lublin and could see the old town, the Catholic University and the castle from the van. We arrived at the Reymontowka camp at 7:15 p.m. for dinner.

The last activity was the students performing the Wedding Ceremony. The wedding ceremony received a five star review from the volunteers. Among the dozen weddings, two volunteers, Eli and Mira, were married to Filip and Kamila.

Thought for the Day: Remember the 3R’s. Respect for Self, Respect for others; and Responsibility for your actions.

As we survey the remaining activities for the week it’s clear that we’re definitely in the home stretch. There are only a few more hours of classroom time to fill but by now we’re pros at running to the resource room for creative ideas, materials, games, and an exchange of helpful hints among each other. Today the volunteers agreed to use one hour to teach the students a few phrases in various foreign languages. Among all of us, and with the help of Kinga and Wiktoria, we presented 9 languages, including Mandarin, Hebrew, and Japanese. Our assignment for Friday is to prepare our individual groups to do a short presentation in English for the parents on the last night of camp, so we were hard at work on that project. In the evening we were invited to a delightful program on Polish culture prepared by the campers in our honor. We ended with a bonfire and a uniquely American touch. With ingredients brought from the US the campers enjoyed s’mores. It was really gratifying to see how many of them felt comfortable enough to chat with us. It makes us feel our time spent in Reymontowka was definitely worthwhile.

Thought for the Day: Don’t push the river, it will flow by itself.

After a delicious breakfast, I went to my class and we learned some English. We practice our dance for the Friday presentation. We played some games outside. We also played some games inside. We were served with a delicious strawberry soup for lunch. After lunch I went outside and played with my friends while the other volunteers stayed and discussed this week’s schedule and the next day’s presentation.
Later in the day, we all watched the “Talent Show” presented by the campers.

Thought for the Day: Nature can provide for the needs of people; (she) can’t provide for the greed of people.

Classes ran smoothly. The last period was given to the volunteers and other staff members presenting songs to the group accompanied by music. Alice taught her class the song, “If you are happy and you know it, clap your Hands”. The campers sang with her. Other songs were introduced by Marianne and Dorota. After lunch, Alice presented many words of wisdom read by the lunch group.

Then Dorota gave the volunteers homework for the week. Lots of it as in the Polish custom. In addition, our goals and whether they were being met was discussed.

Thought for the Day: Always be prepared for your day.

I woke up to the loud noises around me of my family getting ready for class.

Today we spent the first class finding new ways for our bodies to twist and turn like never before during Twister. During the second class we spent time learning new vocabulary for transportation words, such as limousine. After the second class it was time for presentations. Alice led it off with a bang. Florida turned out to have many surprising things I never knew about, even though I’ve been there… twice. California was next up and Marianne didn’t let us down. In fact her presentation of California was so persuasive I’m guaranteed to go there and visit all the major cities. Next was New York, New York, presented by yours-truly. My sister made a great presentation on Connecticut which all the kids including myself loved. Isaac and my Father then completed the tri-state area, with a presentation on our summer house in the Catskills. Although the highlight for all during their presentation was Isaac’s notoriously kicking my father the whole time during the presentation, causing an uproar of laughter in the room. But once again the best was saved for last… my mother took the initiative by presenting on the Philippines, her native country.

Finally after all our presentations it was time for lunch. After lunch, Marianne and Alice began their journey to a hostel, while my family hung around until later that night, for the land of our father’ s and their father’s, Belarus.

Thought for the Day: Service is the rent you pay for the room you use while you are here on earth.

As I walk out the door I feel pretty cold. Another delicious meal sits on the table in front of me. Kinga and I made our way to class. Today was a pretty cooperative day where we taught about American Indians first. After, we did some worksheets, word searches, hidden pictures, apples to apples, and played Uno. For the 3rd and 4th lesson we watched “Bedtime Stories”, which I liked a lot.

After dinner Marvin, Marianne, Alice and Dorota went to a folk concert with performers from Siedlce and Slovakia. There was folk dancing and singing. They also met Dorota’s husband. Another great day at Reymontowka.

Thought for the Day: Before you criticize your children, just remember who raised them.

Woke up to a dreary day. Temperature 65 and drizzling. The kitchen staff was able to counter this situation with warm “milk soup” for breakfast. It looked and tasted something like Farina.

When the classes began, my group of nine children wanted to play scrabble and bingo. They also played charades, which we did by timing the two groups for competitive play.

The fourth period was dance, where Mira led her onstage team in Cotton Eye Joe. Most of the campers joined in on the main floor. This was followed by several other dance numbers with the finale being a rousing YMCA, with everyone joining in.

After lunch, the volunteers went in the van to the Open Air Museum. The estate consists of a 260 year main house, which has a slight odor of mold, several outlying houses, a barn and a second smaller manor house. The noble family Cieszkowski was the original owner and most recently it was purchased by Professor Kwiatkowski in 1987. The professor renovated the house and charges guests who want to visit. The house has old furniture and many oil paintings of portraits on the wall. He lives there in a side house. In one of the outlying houses that we went into, we saw huge boots used by the farmer in olden days, a toy wooden horse and a wooden crib. Kamila did a great job translating for us what the ticket collector/guide said in Polish.

Next we went to Castle Liw Armory built in 1429 by Prince Charming. It is now the Museum Zbrojownia na zamku w Liwie. Here the guide spoke very good English. He began the tour by showing us a full body armor suit which weighs 66 pounds. When someone was knocked off his horse, the suit weighed so much that he was unable to get up even if he wasn’t otherwise injured. The walls of each room had displays of rifles, swords, sabers, and of course oil paintings of battles. During World War II, when the Germans came to demolish the castle in order to use the bricks to build the concentration camp, Treblinka, Otto Warpechowski, an archeologist, persuaded them that the castle had been built by the Teutonic Knights Order. The Germans were fooled. Warpechowski died toward the end of World War II in an accident. Our guide told us that this weekend there will be the annual games of the battling of the Knights. Unfortunately, the family of five will be in Belarus visiting Grandpa’s birth place and Alice and Marianne will be visiting the Bialowieza National Park.

Thought for the Day: Do not squander time since that is what life is made of.

Today, it seems we are all “wiser” and came prepared for our class. We have a better feel for our classes and had a better sense of what activities we can do with them. We also learned from our teammates on what worked for them the previous day and used that activity.

For the 4th period, all the classes gathered at the tent and we all sang songs. Dorota coordinated the program. We open it with the song “Wave the Flag”, which was very popular with the campers. The song was led by Eli and Mira. The next song was “You are my Sunshine”, led by Ivy and Dorota. Eli and Kamila did “New York, New York” (new rap version). Marvin did “YMCA” and Mira and Kinga were the back-up dancers. Campers also liked this. Dorota also led “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.” The campers enjoyed doing this activity.

The volunteers were treated to a special afternoon in Siedlce. We met Pan Bartlomiej Kurkus, Deputy Governor (which is an equivalent of a Mayor in the USA.). We introduced ourselves and asked him questions about Siedlce and his work. We also spoke how we enjoyed our work/stay in Poland. He presented each of us with a book of Siedlce.

After that we visited the Cathedral/Church which was beautiful and did our errands. Alice, Eli, Mira & Ivy stayed in town and shopped around. Alice bought some “wild” place mats and table cloths. Eli entertained Mira and Ivy by trying on different leather shoes and clothes. He was very smart looking.

Marianne, Isaac and Marvin went to the train station and straighten out their train/travel schedules. We then return to Reymontowka.

The day was much cooler and we had a quiet evening.

Thought for the Day: A true friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your heart.

As we gathered for breakfast this morning it was clear that today was different. The cheese crepes were delicious but somehow everyone seemed a little more restrained. Was it that the bountiful meals were catching up with us? Perhaps. But after two days of nervous anticipation, I think it was the reality that our first full day of teaching was finally before us. Alice read our first journal entry; Marianne shared the thought for the day; then Dorota, with her many years experience preparing nervous volunteers, wisely brought out extra worksheets and suggestions on additional activities for the students, should we need them. Aided by this additional boost of confidence we headed outdoors to meet with our student groups, knowing we could at least get through the first couple of sessions. And so it was. After the first session there was a lot of self-congratulation on having “survived.” After each subsequent session there was a quick exchange of helpful tips among ourselves. This included our younger volunteers Eli (14), Mira (13), and Isaac (9), who were highly valued “assistants” to the Polish teachers. When the fourth and final session was over we gathered for lunch, the main meal of the day, which started with yet another excellent soup. The three Polish teachers joined us and we exchanged tips on what worked and what didn’t work with our groups. We all agreed that the students were wonderful but now that we know our groups better we could do some fine-tuning of the activities. The biggest surprise really was that many of the students had English skills that were quite good. We then talked about combining our groups for the fourth session on the following day so that we could each take a turn teaching them an American folk song. Finally, Dorota briefed us on some of the upcoming activities for the week, including a trip to meet the deputy mayor of Siedlce, a folk dance demonstration, and a trip to an open air museum. Dorota also offered to drive us to the nearby tiny town of Kotun from which we could walk back. Ivy and Marianne took advantage of this chance to get some exercise and confirmed that it’s a doable 35 minute walk back to Reymontowka. Good to know because there’s a grocery store, ice cream shop and bankomat there. In the evening we were invited to watch the initiation ceremony for the first time campers. Marianne and Marvin served as queen and king delivering a certificate of welcome to each child. At evening’s end, we headed through the corridors to our rooms, with the students already feeling comfortable enough to speak to us in passing. We went to sleep with visions of the next day’s lesson plan in our heads and here and there the sounds of happy chatter coming from the campers’ rooms. I for sure was tired enough that I knew I would sleep through the rooster crowing at 4:30am.

Thought for the Day: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

To back up I do want to mention the introduction we had to Reymontowka. A lovely young Polish woman greets us at the entrance with a beautifully baked round loaf of bread in the hallowed out Center. We were instructed to take a little triage of bread cut into the side, dip it in the salt, and eat it. This was to assure we would never be hungry and always have food in the house. Promptly at 9:00 Dorota began the session where we set out the team goals and characteristics, for an effective team and individual skills of our team.

Our team goals are:

  1. To help improve the children’s English.
  2. To help the children and others around us learn about America and Americans.
  3. To learn more about Poland’s people and culture.
  4. To make friends.
  5. To experience another Global Volunteers’ opportunity.

Our team’s characteristics are:


Shared vision




Sharing responsibilities



Hard work


Perhaps we should think of a good name for out team. We were given the daily schedule for class schedules. Then we went to the supply room for a tour and instructions for using the copy machine. Dorota gave us some hints as to which items would be useful for various levels. At 11:40 we gathered for rides to the Old Catholic Church or the village of Zeliszew. Marianne, Marvin, and Ivy chose to visit the village. I attended the Mass. The children stayed behind to catch up on their sleep. The church was packed with people and an equal number stood outside. I was fortunate enough to find a seat near a window as there is no air conditioning and it was a warm day. The service was extra long because it was a feast day of the Virgin Mary. At the offertory precession beautifully decorated round loaves of bread were brought to the altar. The priest blesses them and, surprisingly, kissed them. One lady in particular had such a happy, prideful, look on her face. It was a delight to see. There were many other variations to the Masses in the United States. On our return and promptly at 1:30 a delicious dinner of stuffed baked chicken breast, and mashed potato balls, carrots in a tasty, delicate sauce and broccoli. Fruit for dessert. In fact, a wonderful bowl of fruit is provided at each meal. After lunch Dorota gave us a sheet lesson in speaking Polish. After a break we all gathered in the tent where we introduced ourselves to the group and each child stood, gave his name and where he was from. I was impressed at the confidence with which they did this. Later, Marianne, Ivy, and I expressed our amazement at how many years of English and how well they spoke. We decided we had to radically change our thinking as to how and what we would teach. Marianne commented, Dorota had the hardest work – separating the 69 students into suitable groups. We were able to speak a few minutes with the group assigned to us. Each of us expressed satisfaction with his/her arranged group. There was some free time for planning before supper. Alice and Marianne took a short walk and then worked on their plans.