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Character Education

Summer Camps for St. Lucia Youth Promote Good Character

Fighting HIV/AIDS through Character Building

"Should we have sex before marriage?" was the topic one day at a camp in the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia. This question opened a lively and heated debate. It was so passionate that Gower Aimable and Addie Abbott, the two facilitators in charge of this discussion group, had a hard time trying to ensure that the verbal exchanges remained respectful and peaceful.

This group discussion was part of the morning program of a five-day summer camp held from August 4 to 8, 2008, at the Secondary School of Dennery, St. Lucia in the Caribbean.

The summer camp was the third of its kind, following similar activities at the Entrepot Secondary School in Castries from July 14 to 18 and at the Primary School in Soufriere from July 28 to August 1. These summer camps were organized and sponsored in co-operation with the St. Lucia chapter of the Universal Peace Federation and CARICOM (the Caribbean Community). The Ministry of Education also contributed by allowing the use of school facilities.

As coordinator and instructor at the camps, I noticed that youth are confronted with many hot issues but most of them have very few opportunities to discuss them, whether at home, at school, or even in church. Therefore, these camps create a safe and loving environment where participants can express and discuss their viewpoints.

A few of the topics discussed were: What is my value? What are my lifelong goals? How does one build lasting happiness? What is the difference between love and sex, or love and infatuation? Should I abstain before marriage or not? Should I marry or not? What are the qualities I would like to see in my future spouse?

These topics are tackled through a mix of PowerPoint presentations, small group discussions, role-plays, and skits. The manuals of the series Discovering the Real Me, published by UPF, were a good help for the facilitators.

Several Ambassadors for Peace came to share their life experiences with the young persons: Mr. Cassius Elias, a former Member of Parliament and former government minister; Mr. Ausbert Regis, Commissioner of Police; Monsignor Theo Joseph of the Roman Catholic Church; Mrs Arlette Cenac, a specialist in conflict resolution; Hon. Harold Dalson, congressman; and Dr. Morella Joseph from CARICOM.

Afternoon sessions were set aside for arts and craft activities organized by Mrs. Taupier. Participants were taught how to make origami (a paper craft), greeting cards, and glass bead necklaces. Most of them were pleasantly surprised by the good quality of their creations. The best creations received awards at the end of the camp.

On the fourth day of the summer camps, the youth usually did community service as a way to practice "living for the sake of others." They cleaned the classrooms, the school compound, and the immediate neighborhood.

In Soufriere and Dennery, the participants of the camps also visited elderly people. They brought them pastries, sang songs, and gave them greeting cards they made, bringing joy to their hearts.

It seemed that most of the adolescents enjoyed this camp and would agree with Sannie, a young student: "This camp has been very interesting. I have learned to look at myself and others in a new light."

Addie, one of the facilitators, expressed the view that: "The camp allowed the youth to be informed about many misconceptions of sex and sexual interactions. The group discussions gave participants opportunities to share information with their peers and build self-esteem. With this camp the youth are now armed with the tools and skills to confront the pressures of sex without resorting only to condom use. The camp was a great success overall, and we hope that such activities can be continued in the future."

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