“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” Mark Twain
After 9 years of wilderness camps in the mountains near Ooty, Tamil Nadu India, government changes to forest access meant Freedom Firm held camps in the city of Bangalore for the first time ever. Bumped out of our comfort zone and forced to embrace the concrete jungle, it's no surprise that we were stretched in a myriad of new ways. What did we learn? God shows up regardless of the setting and performs miracles greater than we could ever imagine in the hearts and lives of all who attend.
49 people gather from across the world, 8 from America, 25 rescued girls from all over India, and 8 staff from Freedom Firm and various anti-trafficking organizations in India. This year we all converged in Bangalore, for our 16th and 17th Freedom Camps hosted by Freedom Firm.
This is a day of orientation, both for staff and girls, and icebreaker games to help break down barriers. With 3 to 4 languages represented, basic communication is a challenge! Our American friends learn to communicate through Freedom Firm staff, who provide interpretation. Since there are thousands of interactions each day, it's a good thing that 93% of communication is non-verbal! The message we are trying to send? That we love the girls, that each is precious beyond belief, and that there is a hope and a future for each one.
Warming Up! We go out on the town for a time of pure fun, lots of activities, and low pressure as we get to know each other in a relaxed setting.
The US team teaches daily workshops on subjects like hygiene, mental health, identity, worth, and friendship through a variety of hands-on activities, storybooks, drama, and demonstrations.
We also start the low ropes course that begins to stretch and challenge each girl to trust the ropes and the other participants. If fear has a scale of one to ten, the low ropes focus on levels 1-3. This is a day of preparation for greater challenges the next day.
Each day of camp is filled with jazzercise, fabulous crafts, games, and a “campfire” time at the end of the day.
The high-ropes course is the exhilarating, difficult challenge of the day. 35 feet high, with several ropes to traverse before ziplining down to the ground, this activity takes 4 hours in the hot sun as each of the 49 participants, girls, and staff complete each part of the challenge. For many, the fear this challenge represents is substantial and extremely difficult to face. Everyone in the group waits below, cheering each person on to success. It's a day of shaking limbs, tears, and exuberant shouts and laughter as each person ziplines “home.” It's a day of overcoming fears. In the evening everyone debriefs after dinner in small groups. Leaders of the groups help girls to apply their learnings of the day to real examples in each person's life. The ropes, the cheering group of supporters, the harness, all translate into analogies for real life.
Girls and staff continue learning through the teaching times sprinkled throughout the day. The tunnel challenge hits the fear button for some, as girls are paired up and asked to crawl through a 50-meter tunnel on their hands and knees in absolute darkness. While there are emergency exits, they are encouraged to rely on their partners to find the way through, and crawl out into the light. The imagery is stunning and profound. For some, this activity is the greatest and most difficult of the entire camp.
We are nearing the end, and everyone is exhausted from a long and exciting week. We go out for dinner at a great restaurant, give gifts, share some closing thoughts, and say our thank-yous and our goodbyes. It's sad to go, but all of our lives are somehow changed and redefined, and we see each other and ourselves in a new way. We have grown, we have overcome fears. We move forward with our heads held a little higher and the light of hope in our eyes.