Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Poland update (1)

Szklarska Poręba, Poland

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I've now been in Poland for a week, and up here in the mountains since Saturday. Most of the team of native speakers arrived on Wednesday and Thursday so we had some time to meet and orient ourselves before the camps began.

We're staying in actually quite a nice place, which is probably used as a skiing hotel in the winter. The facilities are good and the food is, mercifully, varied and well cooked (not to be taken for granted!). With 60 kids this week we need lots of energy and enthusiasm to keep up with them, and the Polish staff on the camp are doing a good job of keeping them occupied when they're not studying English.

The last time I spent any time with kids was this time last year, so it took me a few days to remember how to relate. I'd also forgotten that kids are really fun! (Some would say that I've found my vocation...)

I'd hoped to preserve my energy right through my time in Poland and into Russia, but as it happened I burned through my initial stock of energy in two days and since then have been reliant on coffee and naps to get through the days.

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The schedule seems to change from day to day, but generally we are responsible for two 30 minute English lessons per day, and some craft activities. Last night we put on the traditional British/American cultural evening, although with 12 Americans and 1 of me it was a bit one-sided!

Still to come this week: a carnival night (basically an excuse to give out lots of prizes), treasure hunt, find the leader, and of course the cricket masterclass. The photos here are of a trip to the local waterfall, and the church in the town.

I'll hopefully update again on Saturday. Cześć until then!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Camp Arka 2008

Wroclaw, Poland

It's time to kick off some summer mission once again. I've come back to Poland to partner with the Christian educational organisation "Arka" in running summer camps for kids and teenagers. As in previous years (this is year 5 for me) I, along with the team of native English speakers, will be teaching conversational English for an hour or two every day of the camps. The aim is to make these lessons not just useful but actually fun, so that they realise the value of learning languages and are motivated to continue their studies the next year.

We haven't come just for English teaching: the aim is to introduce Jesus to the kids through our words, actions and attitudes; which is especially important for the younger kids who won't understand what we say. The challenge is to help them understand that we're not just friendly because we're westerners; we're interested in the kids because Jesus loves them too.

Mission in this context is quite nuanced and contextual, so please pray that we will all have wisdom in our approach, and especially that we won't turn them off through any inadvertent (or deliberate) mistakes.

It's very encouraging, and great fun, to see so many of last year's team of native speakers return. There are about 14 of us here this year, of whom only 5 are new. Unfortunately I am the only British team member in a sea of Americans which brings its own cultural challenges...

Today is an orientation day before we leave for the hills tomorrow. Week 1 is for 7-9s ; week 2 is 13-19s; week 3 (for which I'm not here) is 10-12s. Please pray also for energy and enthusiasm to be maintained throughout the time we're in Poland. Pray also for the Polish staff who have the responsibility of running the camp, and for Rebecca who co-ordinates us as a team of native speakers. We're enormously grateful to God for his provision this year: 176 kids are coming to camp! In a country like Poland that is a huge blessing and one that we definitely don't take for granted.

I should be able to get online fairly frequently during the camps so I will try to give updates on how they're going. For now: peace out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Battling bureaucracy


On Tuesday evening I'll jump on the Piccadilly Line, and after a few changes of train will end up in Asian Russia. What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time... before I learnt about the mountain of faff that needs to be climbed in order to make this journey. Seven trains, each of which I've purchased a separate ticket for. Seven countries, most of which are now in the Schengen zone meaning I don't have to show my passport. The other two - Belarus and Russia - deserve to be shown up for the one-eyed bureaucratic monsters that they are.

I've nothing against buying a visa to enter a country; it so happens that I've never needed to until this year. Russia's system is fairly bizarre: receive an invitation from a Russian organisation, fill in an electronic form on the embassy's website which you then print out, go and queue outside in the rain for an hour and a half, hand over £45, and a week later you have a shiny visa in your passport.

Belarus requires a very similar process. Have a read of their form and feel your life draining away. It's two full pages long and requires a photo, work and home addresses, purpose of visit, information on all previous visits to Belarus, blood type and inside leg measurement. All that, and all I'm doing is sitting on a train for 8 hours passing through the country. At night. Not exactly a borderless society - and at £79 for the "express service" an unmitigated rip-off.

I hate faff.

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