20 years of Holiday camps in Nigeria (Part one)
Cyril Odia sdb 1st August 2016
When the youth Centre building with three floors was opened in Akure in 1996, it was a bold statement by the Salesian community on the priority of investing seriously on non-formal but structured youth ministry.With the technical school and Shrine of Mary help of Christians already providing direct formal education and pastoral services, the youth centre became a symbol of open access for all. The previous daily oratory activities of Fr Franco ‘jagomolu’, the don bosco brass band and catechetical programmes for the Sunday school children all now had their specific spaces within the existing structures in the compound.
The name: what will this summer programme be called? Did I hear you say summer? We do not have summers in Nigeria (or maybe we only have summers, if that means nice sunny weather as against the calendar months of May-August). “But in Italy it is called estate ragazzi” someone argued. “The volunteers will be coming from Italy with templates of the camps we have in our province in Turin”, someone else mentioned. In the end, it was agreed we call it ‘Holiday Camp’, Don Bosco Holiday Camp. It was also agreed that it is not a replacement or even in competition with the already popular ‘holiday coaching’ or holiday lessons’ organised by some schools or private coaching centres.
Animators: From the very beginning it was clear that the local catholic youth leaders had to be in the vanguard of setting up the camp. The first task at hand was to select and train the animators. At the initial stages, they were to be prepared to be able to work with the group of Italian volunteers, who were considered experienced and experts in running camps like this in a ‘Salesian way’. For the Nigerian animators knowing the ‘Salesian style’ was the big anxiety.
The young leaders (that were selected by the youth director) had to come with their previous skills of working in their groups like the choir, Catechism Teachers, Mass-Servers, Lay-Readers, Legion of Mary, Block Rosary, Football Team, Basketball Team, Sunday school teaching, Music Band and the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria –CYON.
The holiday camp actually begins with the ‘animators’ camp about one month before the camp with the children. It was an exciting moment to travel together to a location outside the parish (to another parish in a nearby diocese) and spend the weekend together. The training was intense: Sports, prayer, food, workshops and music. In this serious planning of the entire camp as it would unfold day-by day, nothing was left to chance.
Details of the expected number of children –and how to go out and get them registered, to the exact gifts that will be given to the children at the end of the camp were all prepared. Other important details include the choice of location for the two trips during the camp (one for recreation and one for education). Everybody came back from the animators’ camp with ‘picture slides’ in their heads of the way the camp was going to run every day, and the exact tasks each one would have to do in the mornings and afternoons activities with details. And so it was.
Let’s go back a little: From July 25-August 9 in 1992 the Barcelona Olympics took place. Fr Nicholas had successfully organised us as Salesian aspirants in Onitisha, to have our own little version of ‘Don Bosco Olympics’.
As we were following the events in the media in Spain, some sticks were cut from nearby trees, and with pieces of stones and ropes here and there, we made our own javelins and shotputs. We had the option of going to the sports shops in the city or to nearby secondary schools to borrow the sports’ equipment, but somehow, it was decided we make our own and it was all part of the fun. For the track events, it was even easier to mark the sandy ‘football field’ and get all the registered children running and jumping. It was not a called holiday camp. But it looked very much like it. It could more rightly be called a ‘sports jamboree’ similar to our schools’ ‘inter-house sports’. But that experience set the tone for holiday camps later at that community, which twenty-four years down the line, has grown to all Salesian houses in Nigeria.
Why is the 1996 Don Bosco Akure Camp significant?
For two basic reasons: one is in the starting a tradition that has not been broken in the Salesian Delegation of Nigeria. It only multiplied to Onitsha, Ondo, Ibadan, Lagos. Later expanding to having two camps in two different parishes at the same time in the Archdiocese of Abuja 16 years later. More recently, it is also growing in the new presences of Kontagora and Ijebu-Ode.Kontagora is also significant in the narrative, as the Holiday camp started the introduction of the Salesian presence in that part of the Nigerian Delegation. It can be called a mission that began with the holiday camps. Looking at the Salesian mission in other parts of the world, one hopes that this tradition can be developed like the Salesian summer camp celebrating over 70 years in Australia for example.
The second reason is that of the basic human, pastoral and leadership structure. The Akure 1996 structure has become the standardised format that is being used. The primary reason for this could be the simple fact that it is an effective method. The roles of the animators remain very important (and different communities follow up their animators with prepared materials from the youth pastoral office on congregation and local levels.).
All camps keep to the spiritual, educational and recreational aspects. In the two parishes in Abuja there are daily masses and confessions during the camp specifically for the participants. Some other communities have opening and closing masses or weekly masses, with other spiritual activities suitable to their specific pastoral situations.
The leadership focus is perhaps the most innovative aspect of the holiday camp. With the engagement of the group leaders working as teams strongly emphasised, all the camps run like a miniature ‘country’ for about a month. Some camps even have a ‘cashless economy’ model with points and grading.
Some having the so called ‘don bosco dollars’ and banking system for the children’s daily ‘economic’ reward and documentation of their hard work and good behaviour. Cleaning of the compound, punctuality, group cohesion, intellectual debates, cultural day events and even toilet hygiene all count in the ‘camp’ experience.
This dynamic really makes the camp a platform for consolidating social values in an environment that clearly depicts a microcosmic social reality of the larger complex society of family, faith, justice, character moulding and security. The idea of having about one month of immediate preparation with the animators and volunteers coming from abroad helps the coordinators of the camps to focus more on the supervision of the children (also called ‘campees’) as the animators are trained to work with minimal supervision. As a community, the Salesians would have to dedicate at least two months to this pastoral service.
Like other Salesian camps in other parts of the country, outings would be part of the events. These outings have been to places of beautiful natural attractions like water-falls, hills and parks. Other areas frequented have been airports, zoos, universities, parks, manufacturing factories and religious places.
Many young Salesians would have joyful memories of these trips with lorries, trucks, convoy of buses, flags, music, food, first aid, games, and prayers. It is a learning process to organise a large trip of more than 400-700 people with any of the local Union of Road Transport Workers in Nigeria!
A few years after the 1996 opening of the youth centre in Akure, the community began a youth programme aired weekly in an Ondo state Television station. This programme was called SABENKO walk freely. It was a panoramic programme that focused on youth issues and was produced by the young people themselves. Suggestions to grow this initial success story into a radio or television station of the Salesians never came to fruition.
From 2001, the children of the holiday camp in Ondo Community started having more media attention. Events from the camps were featured in the local news and on different occasions the entire camp-team travelled to the state radio and TV stations.
During the past six years with the activities in Lagos and Abuja, more national and international reports have been made on the camp experience on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), African Independent Television (AIT), TV Africa and our own usual Salesian media outreach online. The youth programmes in Ibadan have also had some positive media attention.
Three years ago the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) also sent a journalist to write a story on the camp from their Abuja office. This report was also used by some of the national dailies.