IYC 2013 Catalonia – by Matthew Mirkin

I have been as a child on several Children’s Summer camps, and in the last five years have become a leading Helper on these same camps, giving up my time and a lot of energy for the children. I had heard of IYC several times before, from past participants and both past and current staff members. I thought it would be a nice chance for me to experience a little more of what it was like being a child on the camps again, to not have to be the figure holding the structure and to be able to let go a little. So this year I booked my place on the International Youth Camp in Catalonia, Spain. And I can safely say it was the best, if not the most important decision of my life. I remember arriving at Girona Airport and there already meeting a girl also on her way from Slovenia, soon we were joined by three, from Italy, Germany and The Netherlands. I was representing South Africa and England. We arrived at the beautiful campsite, numbering seventeen nationalities and eighty-odd individualities. Set in the idyllic Catalonian countryside, we quickly began dissembling national stereotypes, discovering each other’s languages and personalities. Playing games, singing and laughing, rapidly enter your habit body and within the first few days I felt as at home in my tent, in the white marquee, in the dining area, as I have ever felt anywhere else. Through the intensity and personal quality of the social interaction that goes on during the camp, on the hikes, playing games, having group discussions, I very soon had developed friendships that will last for ever and met people that mean more than the world to me.

The memories I will take with me from the camp are innumerable, but I will give you some. Singing starts from day one and happens twice a day, everyday. From modern pop songs, to traditional folk songs, we learnt some of the most beautiful music I have ever sung. From Mozart to Abba, and beyond. The concert we gave to the locals of the nearby village will remain with me. The crystal clear Pyrenees mountain water for swimming in; the mealtimes, each introduced with a new blessing, in a different language, so nourishing! The group discussions on this years theme, IN-Dependence, leading my mind to all sorts of new and interesting places; language, culture, music, spirituality, being discussed into the early hours of the morning. Being sung awake by a group of staff so enthusiastic at every moment that you cannot help but steal some of their energy for yourself. Discovering family connections, ancient friendships and brand new ones, staying on the floor of a local farmers barn during our long hike. All these memories and many others are stored in a special place my mind, the place where all the happiest moments of my life are kept.

The camp is also somewhere where people can, as well as dealing with world questions, face personal challenges in a safe and supportive setting; it was incredible watching other people change over the two weeks and seeing how powerfully individual each persons own stories and lives were. I myself faced many personal challenges on the camp, telling stories to groups of people, singing in public, letting go and showing the world around me who I am and, more importantly, coming to accept and love who I am myself. And, although I cannot say I have overcome all these challenges entirely, IYC and all the incredible people there, brought me a long way. I voluntarily sang regular duets in Open Stage, told a story to the whole camp and let all my superficial masks, pretences and insecurities fall to the ground. I improvised wildly and freely in the Theatre workshop I joined and joined the Tough Hike of a one thousand, two hundred metre ascent. And although it is hard to transfer such a feeling of personal, social and physical freedom back into the rhythm of everyday life, I have now tasted its nectar and have something I can always strive for, an ideal I can solidly set as my goal in life. To feel comfortable with who I am and with everyone else around me in my life in such a way that we can sing and dance and talk together, uninhibited by the assumptions, labels and stereotypes cast by the world around and without ourselves casting them on those around us.

IYC is a jewel I will take with me always.