IYC 2011 Romania – by Leo Keller

IYC! (Full name: International Youth Camp). Three letters which now mean so much to me. I was told it was going to be a good camp, a great camp, a camp that would make me a better person. Sure, I reckoned it’d be a laugh, but change me? I was a Steiner school graduate, a Camphill child, with a father for a priest to boot, how was 2 weeks at a Christian Community camp going to change me? But, my sister was staff and she wanted me to come, and, being the dutiful little sister, her wish was my command. There is a reason I do everything she says: She has an annoying tendency of being right!

And so, along with my fellow four Brits who I met at the airport, off we trotted (well, flew, taxied and train-ed) to Romania where this year’s camp was to take place. A day (spent walking round the beautiful, old, historic cultural city of Sibiu, which, we realised, doesn’t sell food on a Sunday) and night (spent sharing our ‘beds’ with gypsies and stray dogs in a train station) later, we met our fellow campers, before we headed off -by bus and horse-drawn cart– to our temporary home of tents, stunning views and regular visits from the local sheep and wild pigs.

That first day was a blur of faces, names and the exchanges of tired travel stories. 76 people: Different cultures, different ages, different life paths, but we were all there, whatever the reason, and that common ground bonded us.
It felt like we’d only just arrived when we got split into groups with people we didn’t even know the names of yet and sent off on a hike, with instructions to meet at a temporary campsite the following day. The route was up to us, our sleeping place was up to us and the hike competition was our motivation. We walked through many Romanian villages, sang to the locals and got photos with them wearing IYC hoodies, rode in a Caruta (cart), traded a teabag till we ended up with a toy lion, helped build a roof, climbed hills, jumped streams, swam in a drinking basin, ate ice creams under the beating sun, and found a bed, roof and hot shower (!) above a cheese factory. By the time we met the others we were limping, tired, carrying the bags of two of our team and a tent and hot food were never so welcome.
I had gone quite unprepared in the shoe department and my trainers had lavished my feet with 10 blisters at that point, however I was determined to go on the ‘tough’ hike, so the next day –still limping-we set off for the Carpathians, waving goodbye to those sensible ones staying behind for a rest day. In those two days we walked 70km, an average of 12 hours per day, and hitched our tents at 1550 meters. We had breakfast at dawn looking down over vast wild countryside with a river tailing away far off in the distance. It was stunning, magical, and gave us the energy to keep walking, walking, walking back to our camp and newly extended family. We arrived back in the darkness, limping –almost crawling-, in pain and exhausted beyond measure, but singing with every morsel of energy we had left. We had done it! We had made it home! I think that was the point I realised that the International Youth Camp was special.

The next day was straight into workshops. I was giving a circus and physical theatre workshop every day with my sister which was very enjoyable, and when we weren’t clowning around in our group, we were clowning around on the ‘Open Stage’, or singing, playing games and sports, discussing this year’s theme –truth-, sitting round the campfire and singing again. Always singing. There’s something so magical about making music as a group, our beautiful sound fading into the sunset. I’m not usually the outdoors-y type. I like to be warm and dry, curled up on the sofa with a good book, but those two weeks breathing fresh air, watching the sun and moon and the stars, really living in nature, gave me so much energy and such a sense of freedom; and everyone felt it. The schedule was ram packed, and if you wanted to socialise round the fire at night, there wasn’t much sleep involved either, and yet we felt relaxed, rejuvenated and simply content. I’ve never spent two weeks with the same group of people and experienced so much happiness. But then again, I’ve never spent two weeks with so few reasons to complain. We were given so much. So long as we had an open mind, we were given physical and mental stimulation, a vast collection of songs, the sense of achievement, experience, new skills, 70 new friends, and, in my case at least, a new more motivated, more mature, more exciting outlook on life.

It took me five days to come out of my post IYC come down, I no longer had my new found friends with me all the time, I was trapped inside the walls of a house, and the music was now only a memory, but I emerged stronger and more at peace within myself. I don’t know what it is that makes it so special. Maybe it’s the admirable happy energy of the staff or the continual barriers and challenges you are overcoming, or simply the freedom to be yourself. But, like my sister had said it would, the International Youth Camp changed me. It gave me richness in life, it gave me passion and it gave me a whole community of incredible friends. It may just have been two weeks at a Christian Community camp, but two weeks I wouldn’t swap for the World.