YMLP (Young Men’s Leadership Project) is an annual week long summer camp in Macedonia organized for 70 young men from 14 to 17 years of age, hosted by YMCA Bitola and Peace Corps Macedonia. This year YMLP camp was held at Sula Mina, located above Krusevo, the highest inhabited city in the Balkans. Seventy young men were selected and interviewed from the 120 applications. YMLP is possible through funding provided by the generosity of corporate sponsorships from Bimilk, Vitaminka, Zdravje Radovo, TAV Airports and the U.S. Embassy.
Logan Monday, a Peace Corps volunteer and counselor at the camp described YMLP as an “engaging, challenging, inspiring and stimulating experience.” Logan was a counselor to a team of 10 young men who came together on day one to make their special team name, flag and chant, and creating their team identity as the White Walkers.
Logan stated, “A camp is not a camp without tents or fires.” After demonstrations on tent set-up, his team, along with each of the 8 teams, trekked up to “rough camp” to set up their tents. During rough camp campers learned how to build a safe camp fire, cook a meal and take care of the environment by “leaving no trace” behind. For many young men this was their first experience in the forest as a camper. In addition to sleeping in tents, campers enjoyed the night hikes, eating s’mores, along with songs and night-time ghost stories around the campfire.
However, YMLP isn’t just a summer camp, it’s a leadership camp. Morning classes included topics on democracy, leadership, civic responsibility, personal development and the environment. Afternoons included team building, art, social media, poetry writing, drama, Japanese, mindfulness, in addition to discussions on talking to women and applying to American colleges. There were no boring classes and it all stimulated more questions for their counselors.
A visit from U.S. Ambassador Jess Baily and his wife were a real highlight for everyone. Cappie Polk-Baily offered a terrific presentation to everyone on cross-cultures and the Ambassador offered a stimulating question and answer session. Wonderful week filled with productivity, learning and entertainment.
In addition, shared experience from a Riste Kovachev, Junior Counselor of the camp:
“When someone asks me ‘How did your summer go?’ my first thought is of YMLP camp. My first impression of this awesome summer camp is of the lovely and polite Peace Corps Volunteers who worked so hard to make this camp more awesome each and every year. As a Junior Counselor at YMLP this year, I brought two more campers from my community. They were excited to participate. I’ll just mention here that last year as a camper, I was the only one from my town, and it was challenging for me to participate with so many intelligent, young and empowered high school students who were there for the same reason as me, to socialize and have fun. The skills and experience I gained from last year at camp helped me to lead, inspire and guide first time campers who wanted to have a great camp experience.
Being a Junior Counselor at YMLP is the best way to identify your leadership skills, learn new ones and practice being the best leader possible. With the encouragement of my Counselor, I used my skills and talents in leadership, organization, enthusiasm and creativity to create an exciting learning environment for campers. My Counselor fully supported me and gave me a lot of helpful advice, making our team the best. My role at camp was to help campers to learn about leadership; how to express their thoughts and feelings; and let their best selves come out.
At the beginning, most of the campers were shy, insecure and afraid of the situation at camp, but that was only upon first arrival. The turning of their minds was the night of rough camp. Luckily we went to rough camp the second night of the week. That night was so special for the campers because they still hadn’t experienced cooking dinner for themselves over a camp fire, talking about different topics, sharing stories about themselves and just getting to know each other.
Also, the classes on Democracy, Civic Responsibility, Environment, Personal Development and Leadership were just beginning. They would play a big role in developing of the campers as individuals by using different teaching methods and classes facilitated by Peace Corps volunteers and locals. The team building exercises where everywhere at the camp, starting from the classes and finishing with the sports activities. Every camper was included and it was the team’s responsibility to accomplish the common goal.
The best part at being at YMLP was socializing with the campers. That included your team as well as all the other campers, in addition to facilitators, staff members and volunteers. Now, I have a lot of friends from almost every town in Macedonia. We can share and spread the knowledge from our camp throughout our communities. I am thrilled to have participated in YMLP. I trust it will continue to be better throughout the years.”
Riste Kovachev was previously on a training where he gained some knowledge organizing summer campss, how to work with youth, how to be a good youth leader, about the group work, and of course he learned some games. About that event, more here.
Photo gallery of the camp!