Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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Life-changing visit to France

Climbing trees, kayaking, dancing, having fun with other kids from different countries in a loving, peaceful environment

“You must not be sad that it ended. You must be happy that it happened.” —Dr. Seuss

Copain du Monde is one of the best things that happened to me. It’s an international summer camp held in France every year. Copain du Monde—which means “friend of the world”—was organized by Secours Populaire Francais (SPF), an organization involved in humanitarian work in France and other countries.

Copain du Monde aims to build friendships among children of different races and nationalities. Each year, SPF invites at least two girls and two boys from each of the chosen countries to interact with French children. This year, they chose kids from Nepal, Israel, Haiti, Japan and the Philippines to participate in a two-week-long camp. I was one of five delegates chosen to represent the Philippines via a recommendation from the Mirasol Foundation.

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This year’s camp was held in Gerardmer, a little town in the mountain region of Vosges. It was the perfect location for the children delegates to appreciate the beauty of France besides Paris.

You could roll down the hills on the fresh, wet grass, stare at colorful roses and daisies, stroll in the woods while hearing the sounds of nature. It was straight out of the pages of a lovely storybook.

One of my favorite activities was climbing from tree to tree. We had to use two harnesses, so imagine the difficulty of detaching and attaching the clasps while hanging 10 feet above the ground with nothing but rope to stand on.

But I loved the thrill of almost falling into the pond below, where there seemed to be a monstrous beast lurking beneath the algae.

It also felt like going on a quest to the treetops, hoping to find a missing artifact. The climax of this adventure was zip-lining. There were zip lines of all sizes, from tree-to-tree, and from cliff to cliff. We were not able to do the longest one, but it was still fun racing along ropes. There was one thing I couldn’t get off my mind: a fellow delegate, Nico, getting stuck in the middle of a zip line.

Another great activity was kayaking in Lake Gerardmer. I loved slicing the paddle through the water and watching young male mallard ducks create small ripples as they swam away.

But it was far from ordinary kayaking because this one had games. My favorite was “the boat is sinking.” The rules: Someone has to yell out a certain number, and in 10 seconds you must group yourselves together and hold on to each other’s boats using the side handles. Whoever gets left behind must stand on your kayak for three seconds—without falling. It was hilarious watching people tip their boats over, screaming their heads off.

Thousands of kids

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One of the main events was SPF’s 70th anniversary last Aug. 19, celebrated with other Copain du Monde chapters. It was held in Paris, at Champs de Mars, with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop. The entire area surrounding the Eiffel Tower was closed off for the event. Over 70,000 children and families from all over France attended.

Our first activity was an “Amazing Race” type of treasure hunt in the city. We had to go around Paris by following a map to different stations, where we had to perform a specific task or answer a specific question, for instance, “How many cupcakes are on that wall?”

It was so much fun being the leader of our group, using my map skills to point out the location of the next station. It was actually one of the few times I was entrusted to do such a complicated task, leading a bunch of children around Paris. I still couldn’t believe I managed to do it.

Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time was memorable, including the old architecture of the buildings lining the streets that led to it. There was an amazing sight in every corner and every street. I could barely blink, fearing I would miss a historical landmark or an outstanding graffiti.

The event at Champs de Mars, a large public park near the Eiffel Tower, was amazing. We had a picnic under cube-shaped trees, ate ice cream and drank peach juice.

Our delegation—Alexa Loste, Nico Yambao, Joaquin Jayme, our adult leader EJ Pepito, and I—proudly waved the Philippine flag. We also watched a concert and joined a flash mob.

Favorite souvenir

In one of the Friday parties at camp, SPF officials visited. After our cultural show—in which we sang “Paraiso” and “Better World” and performed a dance number—our camp counselors brought out a DJ. We had a dance party!

While I was dancing with the Japanese girls I just met, the DJ put on some slow music. I went back to my seat to rest. Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Valérie Trierweiler, former partner of French President François Hollande. She asked me to dance with her! I couldn’t say no, of course.

So we danced to the French version of Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” I really felt like a diamond, shining bright. When the song was over, Mlle Trierweiler removed one of her beaded necklaces and put it around my neck! It’s now my favorite souvenir.

Before going to France, I was given the task of designing our team sweater and shirts. I drew six children that represented the countries included in Copain du Monde this year—Nepal, Japan, the Philippines, Haiti, France and Israel. Naomi, a 6-year-old Tibetan refugee, asked our adult leader, EJ, if Tibet was included in the sweater. EJ said no, because Naomi and her siblings were now representing her new country, France.

Naomi tried to scratch the design off the sweater. When EJ asked why she was doing that, Naomi shook her head and said that it just wasn’t the same without Tibet. I did not realize what it’s like to lose a country, and how it changes a person’s life forever.

I also had the opportunity to have Rubina and Purnima from Nepal as roommates. Rubina lost five members of her family in the recent earthquake. She still has head injuries. She and Purnima taught me how to play Trigum, a modified game of tag.

They likewise taught me a few words in the Nepali language—“namaskar” is hello; “dhanyavad,” thank you; and “Moh timilai maya garschu,” I love you.

They gave me pamphlets about Nepal. In return, we taught them some phrases in Filipino and how to play President.

We also took selfies using Photobooth and made fun of boys during free time.

It felt sad that when my newfound friends go back to their country, it might take a long time before we see each other again.

Copain du Monde changed my life in two weeks. We did not talk about politics or how to fix the world’s problems. But we were just happy to be with other children from different parts of the globe.

It was a reminder that children are the future of the world, that in a loving and peaceful environment, children would become better citizens.

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TAGS: Europe, France, Fun Activities, Travel, vacation
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