Sunday, July 17, 2011

Q and A: Simple Abundance

Q: What have you been up to for the past month?

A: Mom and Dad came to visit for just over a week, and we filled the time with castle tours, ice cream, red poppy gazing, dinner with my host family, the chicken dance and conversations about our work in the world and the courage to do things that have not been done before. Following their visit, I joined 5 other North Americans (one of them Canadian) for 10 days of Viata training.

Q: What is Viata?

A: Viata (Romanian for “life”) is a 12-year-old adventure camp dedicated to building social capital among Romanian youth, empowering them to make a difference in their communities.

Q: What is social capital?

A: Social capital is the set of networks and norms that allow people to work together for the common good. For example, lacking a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility a neighborhood’s flower beds might become overgrown with weeds because of neglect. These norms are like oxygen: you only really become aware of them when they are absent.

Q: What kind of people are attracted to work at the Viata camp?

A: One of my fellow trainees characterized them as people who “dream with their eyes open.” During training week, I rubbed elbows with twenty-something’s who had started NGO’s, people who referred to themselves as “social entrepreneurs” and others who were whole-heartedly committed to the development of “non-formal” education in Romania (Viata camp is an example of this). I was humbled and inspired.

Q: Can you illustrate the spirit of Viata camp?

A: The day begins with breakfast at 8:30 (often a dish of hot dogs consumed after a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer) and progresses to the element of the day, whether that’s high ropes, low ropes or rock climbing. Before every activity, leaders guide their team in a discussion of what values the activity might call upon (courage and perseverance in rock climbing, for instance) and then follow up with a debrief after the activity, drawing parallels between the obstacles and feelings experienced during the activity with those in real life. The day is interlaced with games and camp songs. Many activities are transferable to real life, but some are just for fun, like the Tarzan Song:

“Tarzan {Beat chest with fists}/Swingin’ on a rubber band/

Tarzan {beat chest with fists}/Got hit by a frying pan

Oooo, that hurts!

Now Tarzan has a tan/And I hope {squeaky voice} it doesn’t peel

Like a banana {Beat chest}"

Q: What’s on your mind as you head down Straja Mountain?

A: I’ve been mulling over what I wrote in my last posting, and though I still agree with myself, mostly, I take issue with something I inferred. One element of freedom is freedom of choice (such as the freedom to choose one’s preferred candidate in an election), I still believe, but I do not think that there must be an abundance of choices in order for freedom to be alive and well. In fact, Romania in general and Viata Camp in particular have taught me that a shortage of options breeds creativity and a good sense of humor. Without the stickers and kits and fancy costumes and plastic doodads that so many programs for children in the States seem to deem necessary, Viata camp leaders managed to so thoroughly entertain and instruct campers that many cried when they had to leave at week’s end. Our imaginations don’t need so many props and formulas as I thought, nor do our bodies require so much food and our closets so much clothing. Freedom is not about stuff. In fact, stuff may encumber freedom, weigh it down. The abundance that resides in simple things – meals together, dancing, shared experience – supports freedom.

“Cultivate a love for what seems poor,” one friend advised me recently. Live the simply abundant life.

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