Freedom Firm just hosted our annual wilderness camp at Lake Avalanche from 18th April to the 23rd. We had over 37 girls and 25 staff attending from Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, and West Bengal. Different teams started to trickle in after several days of travel. The girls loved Ooty and day one was spent in groups, each visiting the Boathouse, the Gardens, Ruhamah workshop here at Freedom Firm's office, and finally riding the horses. After 4 full days, it was the experience with the ponies that many girls enjoyed most.
I trekked up with the visiting team from Virginia Beach, to Avalanche (with a cage full of chickens that we would eat in the next few days!) a day early to set up camp. It’s a beautiful campsite. In the distance was the reason why the Nilgiris are called the blue hills. The trees grow higher and higher over the hills reaching out for sunlight, and there isn’t a hint of civilization, no cars, no people, just a quietness that stills the soul. The next day, the girls hiked in!
The food at avalanche was great: chicken on most nights and hot chocolate around the campfire. During the evening campfire, some girls shared their stories. There were tears and sorrow, but throughout our time at camp, there was also joy and laughter.
The activities were: abseiling, kayaking, a night trek, and stargazing. There was swimming in the lake and under the waterfall. The water, though cold, did not stop the girls from jumping in. It was amazing to watch the girls abseiling, swinging down the rock face and landing knee-deep in the shimmering, ice-cold water. The evening was full of laughter as the girls dressed up and mingled outside their tents, showing each other their clothes and the accessories they were decked in. It is in moments like this when it sinks in, that these normal young girls have incomprehensible stories, difficult lives, but are all around 16 to 18-years-old, with some in their twenties.
Down at the lake, a multitude of emotions surfaced as the girls took off in their kayaks. Some caught on right away and were eager to venture into far-off parts of the lake. It seemed that those who persisted to the far shore were proving to themselves that they could do it. But there were also those who experienced more than they were prepared for and a disconcerting wobble or bumping into a rock, getting stuck, and panic would set in, followed by mounting fear and in one instance, a panic attack. One of the girls later described her fear as a cold hand reaching in and squeezing her heart.
On the last day, we went walking through a rocky, slippery stream bed, with overhanging vines to grapple with. The turnaround point was climbing a tall boulder. The activity involved trust as the girls had to help each other. What they did was inspiring because some of us staff found it difficult to hike back through the water, and the girls led us out. There was a lot to learn from these girls. Their conversations revealed a depth of character and wisdom, complexity, and often, a sweet naivety.
It was wonderful to watch them working alongside one another, helping and serving with willingness. If there is anything to take away from this experience at camp, it is a lesson in attitude. In spite of the pain life brings, it’s the attitude you choose to live with that makes all the difference. And these girls? They had great attitude. Towards the end of the camp, it was sobering to watch the girls, knowing that I may never see some of them again. But my faith is in the grace and shelter God will provide them. I found myself thankful, humbled, and honored to be able to serve the girls, each of whom is a miracle.