BEDFORD, VA - While many teens spend their summers relaxing, a group of young people outside the small rural town of Bedford, Virginia, is learning to be global ambassadors.
Attending the 12-day Global Youth Village summer camp sponsored by Legacy International, the teens are discovering customs and hardships of their peers, and discussing ways to build peace and protect human rights.
Set in a secluded, wooded area, the camp brings together teens from a variety of countries, including China, Eritrea, Libya, Poland and the United States.
Through workshops and social gatherings, attendants, ranging from 15 to 18-years-old, are encouraged to cooperate and embrace differences while learning to communicate with people from other countries.
Now in its 35th year, Global Youth Village summer camp has hosted 4000 teenagers from 100 countries.
Arts workshop Instructor Tony Santa Ana says the aim is to create global citizens who can make the world a better place.
“Through arts, through games, through laughing, through dancing, they're able to create this harmonious peaceful village,” said Santa Ana, a California college professor who is spending part of his summer at the camp.
Among the 22 high school students is African Kofi Gwira, a 17-year-old from Accra, Ghana. Wearing traditional Ghanaian garb, Gwira shows off his cultural pride by teaching his new friends words in his local language. He uses a tablet computer to display photos of his extended family, and, to the delight of his group, even teaches them some Ghanaian dance moves.
“Meeting all these different people, I realize that we have a lot of differences in cultures but we also have a lot of similarities,” Gwira said.
Sharing a cabin with seven other campers, he says he already feels right at home.
“They're kind of like my brothers," he said of his roommates. "We've bonded."
Cabin-mate Gonzo Ocampco, an American whose parents are from Peru, calls Kofi is a natural born leader. Like Gwira, Ocampco and other students are honing their own leadership skills, part which includes the discovery that stereotypes and assumptions they may have made about each other aren’t true.
Their time at the camp, though brief, provides lessons that will last a lifetime.