If we can only help one ….?

I want to share a story with you, not to take credit, but to show what is possible when people decide that something needs to change.

The story starts 11 years ago.  Camp Sylvester was new, so new, it didn’t have a name.  We didn’t know the children but we had this idea that we could spend 4 weeks together and make a difference.

We knew that one of our biggest challenges would be behaviour.  The children were very excited, the culture was different, and our expectations were high.  We expected them to listen, we expected them to co-operate, and we expected them to learn.  We expected the same from every child.

It soon became clear that most of the children wanted to listen, co-operate, and learn.  But…. some found it hard.  One in particular stood out.  His name was Aloysius and he was different, we could see that.  He was only 9 but he had a lot of “baggage”.

The other campers were quick to blame him for everything.  His behaviour towards others was often unacceptable.  We had made it very clear that no camper would be allowed to hurt another in any way.  They were given very clear expectations.  They were also told that if they failed to co-operate with us, or each other, they would be sent home until the next day.

Among the volunteers, there was speculation about who would be sent home first.  We felt it was only a matter of time before one of several boys would cross the line.

It didn’t take long.  Aloysius had been warned a number of times that his behaviour towards others was unacceptable.  Each time his behaviour seemed to escalate.  Finally it became obvious that we needed to follow through and Aloysius was sent home.  He was told to return the next day for a fresh start.

The next morning word came down from the village that Aloysius’ mother had beaten him.  Yikes!!  This was not an acceptable outcome.   We needed to rethink out strategy.

Aloysius did return to camp and from that day on he lost his swimming time when his behaviour deteriorated.  This served 2 purposes.  It made it clear we were serious in taking away something we knew he loved to do.  It also kept the others safe when his behaviour could be the most disruptive.

We managed to get through the rest of camp keeping everyone safe.  We were also starting to figure out what and who were triggering his negative outbursts.  We made it clear that everyone was welcome to return to camp the following year.

The next year was not quite as bad but Aloysius was still not spending much time in the water.  We were realizing however, that several other campers were very good at “setting him up”.  We began to help him develop strategies to deal with this.

By the end of the first week of year 3 we made a sudden discovery.  No one had had any discipline problems with Aloysius.  In fact, we found ourselves complimenting him on his participation and thanking him for his help.  He was in the water everyday and the only problem was that he had not learned to swim.

Camp was going very well for Aloysius and his thank you letters to his Camp Supporter indicated how much camp meant to him.  Unfortunately, school was not going well.  Aloysius had never learned to read and write well.  When it was time to enter high school, he was sent to the catchment school for the lowest students.

This school should have offered just the help Aloysius needed to catch up.  He was eager to improve.  However, the staff had no special training.  The curriculum and expectations were the same as those of the top schools on the island.

Aloysius struggled through his first 2 years.  In the summer before his 3rd year was to begin he approached me to ask for help to attend the CARE program.  CARE is a wonderful program for students who are not academically inclined.  It provides a first year program called the Adolescent Development Program run by a wonderful, caring teacher.  The students are encouraged to learn more about themselves, their background, their strengths and weaknesses.

With financial support from 2 of our volunteers, Aloysius did very well at CARE and began to display more confidence at camp and in the village.  At camp he had become a Junior Leader and he took his role seriously.  He was especially watchful when the children were in the water.  He still needed help to write his Thank You letters but it was obvious that he felt much better about himself.

At CARE, Aloysius decided to study to become a Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technician.  Over the next 2 years he worked hard at his studies, kept himself out of trouble, and became a very reliable Junior Leader at camp.

This past summer, on the 2nd day of camp, Aloysius came down early and asked to speak to me.  Shyly he handed me his certificate of graduation from CARE and his trophy.  It was a special moment!

Not only had he graduated but also he was given the award as Most Skilled.  In a trade that is a big deal.

He made a speech I am sure he had rehearsed for days, thanking me and his sponsors for making this possible for him.  I was in tears as I hugged him and congratulated him on all he had achieved.

The economy in St. Lucia has never recovered from the recession.  Many have lost jobs or have had their hours cut.  Many have given up, some have never even tried.

Aloysius has applied to every company on the island that needs his skills.  He has been told that no one is hiring right now.  When I asked him what he planned to do, he looked me right in the eye and announced he was to keep visiting them again and again.

Here is a young man who was given the opportunity to reach his true potential.  He seized that opportunity and he made it his own.

If Aloysius’ story was the only positive one I could share with you I would be disappointed.  So many people have invested their time, energy, financial support, encouragement, and love in the kids at Camp Sylvester over the past 11 years.

His is not the only positive outcome and I am grateful but if he were the only one, he would be enough!

This is not quite the end of Aloysius’ story.  I just received the best news ever.  Aloysius has a job. All his hard work and perseverance paid off.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.  What a wonderful role model he has become for the entire village.

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