Written by Ayu*, a worker from OM Indonesia
“When will we have camp again?” asked Fauzi*, a 13-year-old Teens Camp participant, not long after he had returned home from the camp. For Fauzi and most of the other teenagers at the camp, this was their first time participating in activities outside the community where they live.
A total of 36 young people from 11 to 15 years old gathered together to learn about their “Red Flags” at a three-day camp organised by OM Indonesia. Like the red flags at the beach indicating danger when the waves are high, the lives of these young teens have their own red flags. The purpose of this camp was to raise awareness about these red flags and how to avoid them.
“This is the first time for most of us”
As soon as they got off the shuttle van, some teens immediately rushed to the soccer field and the playground at the camp site. “Are we going to pitch a tent and sleep on this grass tonight?”, Sufian* asked me. He looked so weak because he had gotten car sick on his way here.
I smiled at his excitement. Luckily, he would be sleeping in a room on a mattress.
On the first day of the camp, we gave the young people the freedom to get to know one another. They talked, played soccer, and just had fun with their friends and the volunteers. A few of them had come without knowing anybody because they lived in different parts of the area. Sports and games helped them to make friends with the others.
That Friday night, the teens heard a “wisdom story” from Ibu Wawa. Disguised as a grandmother, she told them a story in the Sundanese language about Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on anger.” She explained how anger or bitter words can leave scars that are hard to erase in the human heart when we don’t control ourselves.
On Saturday morning, the red flag zone began. The campers listened to a report about drugs from Bandung National Narcotics Agency before they were introduced to “Uncle George”. George is a pastor who used to be a drug user when he was just a child. As he talked about his life, he unpacked his journey of repentance and shared the Good News with them.
“I was in 5th grade when I got to know drugs,” said George, answering their first question. George emphasized to the teens that they must know the dangers of drugs and stay away from them. He also added that they should learn to accept themselves and stop comparing with others. Some of the boys who had previously told us that they were often offered strange pills by some adults seemed to nod when they heard the message.
The communities where the teens live are indeed very vulnerable to drug trafficking, criminal acts, and promiscuity. Many children are already drug users or active smokers at the age of ten. Even though the pitfalls of smoking are widely known, it’s considered normal to smoke, especially as an escape from poverty.
The communities where the teens live are indeed very vulnerable to drug trafficking, criminal acts, and promiscuity. Many children are already drug users or active smokers at the age of ten.
Besides the dangers of drugs, the teens also learned about sexual harassment and how they can avoid or handle it. Debbie, a representative from the Jari Foundation (Foundation of Independent Volunteer) discussed this with them. One of the services that Debbie and her team at Jari Foundation provides is counselling, mediation, and assistance to victims of sexual harassment or domestic violence.
During the session, 12-year-old Aeesha* shared, “My friend once told me that she felt uncomfortable when our male teacher, without permission, put his arm around her shoulder and held her arm.”
After that, other teens opened up as well and began to ask questions or share their stories. Some of them were too embarrassed or not sure about what happened to them and sought counselling afterwards.
A few of the campers admitted that this was the first time they had heard these information or had the opportunity to openly ask questions about drugs and sex. These topics are rarely touched upon at school or at home, especially when it comes to sex. They are considered taboo and should not be discussed even though situations such as pregnancy out of wedlock, rape and, sexual harassment are occurring in their communities.
Sunday was a day of fun and action as the teens learned about peace-keeping values. For a start, they had a hand at drawing their own faces while learning about keeping peace with themselves.
“Why did you rate yourself 50 Dian?” I asked one of the teens.
“I feel ugly. My eyes are slanted, and my body is short, I’m also not smart,” he replied. It was so sad to hear him describing himself like that, he appeared to be so cheerful usually.
There was another boy who gave himself an 80. He wrote, “I’m not handsome, but I’m kind.”
Erma, the speaker in the session then explained that all humans are God’s creation, which He created to be very good. “God created humans with a good purpose, each human being is unique and valuable,” she explained. She also divided the teens into several groups where they discussed their strength and weaknesses. At the end of the session, we had the opportunity to pray with them.
“I am not that tall, but I have a kind heart and I’m friendly. I am proud of myself and accept myself,” said Preesa* as she held her drawing at the end of the session.
During the second half of the day, they also learned to keep peace with others, for example, living in harmony with people from different cultures or friends from another religion, and how to handle conflict.
Out of the 36 teens at the camp, only 9 were Jesus followers. Although it is common in Indonesia to associate with people from other ethnicities and beliefs, issues of radicalism and discrimination always arise, especially against minority groups. In some environments, it is normal to make fun of religious minorities.
It was beautiful to see them talking openly, yet still respecting one another.
However, in this session the teens had a safe space to express and clarify their prejudices against those from a different religion or ethnicity. It was beautiful to see them talking openly, yet still respecting one another.
At the end of the camp, we distributed rewards and prizes to teens like Parham* and Iban* who showed simple acts of kindness to their friends. For example, when their friends were busy getting ready and forgot to tidy up their sandals, they helped them without complaining. They also affirmed and appreciated those who answered questions and helped friends who were sick. Of course, they deserved appreciation themselves!
Another kind of family
Fauzi cannot wait for the next camp as he left the camp site looking forlorn.
“I felt like I had family in that camp,” he told me when we met again a few days after the camp.
This Teens Camp was organised by OM Indonesia and supported by OM Mercy Teams International (OM MTI). OM MTI works with local partners and OM fields across Southeast Asia to share hope and support change among vulnerable communities. Our recently launched Vibrant Hope for Children fund seeks to provide holistic development for children in the region who find themselves increasingly vulnerable to poverty and the negative consequences it brings.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities