I had another one of those “gives me chills, I think I’ll probably remember this for the rest of my life” moments. I’ll give some context first though:
Dec 11-12 was the Sub-Regional Chicos Superman Conference. Myself along with Jackie, Kate and Sam (three of my FAVORITE volunteers) traveled to Jarabacoa to drop some knowledge on 20 Dominican Muchachos. Little did we know that we were about to have an experience unlike any other Chicos experience we’d had in the past.
I don’t know if I’ve gotten flojo with my “Conference Invitations” or what, but it was a mess leading up to our travels in La Culata. As per usual, I didn’t provide permission slips, official invitations or anything, I just sort of casually invited my guys. That wasn’t the issue. The problem came with, for some reason, the entire town taking great interest in who was going, who wasn’t going, why certain boys weren’t going, etc. It was annoying.
Since I was bringing 4 muchachos, I decided to bring a 5th guy but someone who is older and more responsible to help me with the travel. I didn’t want to be alone traveling with four little ones. So I invited my regional Escojo Mi Vida coordinator. Two days before the conference, he was offered a job opportunity and so had to back out. Then, I asked a local community member, and the DAY before he had to back out for the same reason. That turned into an afternoon of me running around trying to find ANYONE who would go with me. A third job offer (turns out it’s government job offer time) left me without a helper at 8pm the night before. Luckily, and as all things seems to occur, the situation worked itself out as I had a young man tell me he was able to join us on the 36 hour excursion.
We set off at 5:30am, I only had one boy vomiting on the adventure (an amazing improvement from last time…when all of them were vomiting at various points). After a stop for breakfast in Santiago, we got to Jarabacoa. The conference itself was great. We packed 24 hours full of a great variety of themes and topics from Men’s Health to Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS. We covered a lot.
The best part, though, was the participation of our amazing youth. Each of us ended up bringing one or more males who were more around the 18-24 age range. At the beginning of the conference we had a conversation with them and explained that we wanted them to take advantage of the amazing opportunity to act as a role-model for these developing youngsters (ranging from 9-14). We made a strong effort to involve them in all of the charlas (actually having them give a lot of them without our help). They took charge in most of the organization, leadership and all that jazz. That let us, the volunteers work more on logistics. It was also great to see these Dominican youth teaching and affecting the little ones. It means so much more to have a Dominican communication such powerfull messages than someone who fumbles over basic Spanish grammar.
The unforgettable experience that I mentioned earlier came out of a rather unpleasant camp experience. It ended up happening that my four ‘chachos were the only youth from the campo (everyone else either lives in a large pueblo or a city) and so it just so happens that my guys have a different lifestyle and different access to information/technology/resources. They ended up getting made fun of, to the point where they locked their room door because they didn’t want anyone to keep annoying them. I was pretty upset, so I called an all leader meeting. We got together and decided to address the situation head-on before our evening activities.
Our decision was to have all of the males leaders (myself included) get up in front of the group and have a discussion about respect and diversity. We ended up each adding a few thoughts to the discussion, talking about putting in practice the things that we learn and all that jazz. The things we were saying weren’t that insane or radical. Everything was pretty basic, but the amazing thing was they everyone had something poignant and different to say. The boys sat in near silence, absorbing every word that we were all saying. As I looked over at my peers, I got chills, as I realized that this was a moment of amazing youth development…for everyone involved. These young men were getting an opportunity to have an amazing impact on developing youth. It was beautiful, and I don’t think I can adequately put into words the gravity of the moment. Just know that I felt honored to be a part of it, and it was amazing to witness.
So yeah, Chicos Superman can be a pretty rockstar experience for volunteers, youth and muchachos all at once.