23 Days in the Woods
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear. – Henry David Thoreau
The past summer was my third break I spent with the children. Every break, I fly in from Incheon airport to Haneda on a night plane with my heart pounding with excitement and anticipation to meet new campers and staff.
“Who is coming to this year’s summer camp? Will there be any returning campers and staff?” These questions fly in and out of my head as I fall asleep. Nonetheless, my subconscious thoughts appear in my dream, stirring different emotions. “Jane, don’t you need to take summer classes? Don’t you need to focus on finding a job?”
At the end of the day, my goal this summer is to make a positive impact on the children’s lives, only to realize how much I have been blessed through my interactions with them. The voices in my head…they speak to me. But, as summer goes by, the sound of the breeze hitting the leaves, the cicadas crying and the laughter of the children echoing through the campsite mute the worries and thoughts within me.
Living in the city and studying in university has taught me to prioritize ‘balance’ in my life. Every semester in university, I have been pushed and pulled to juggle an endless list of things to do— academics, part-time jobs, tutoring, maintaining a social life, you name it. Struggling to balance so many things so it all fits into place and is finished on time has made me seriously consider giving up on life.
Then the only way to survive and keep going is by giving myself a time to let go of the duties I have and focus on what energizes and inspires me. This is where Mirai no Mori comes in. Mirai no Mori has a combination of the two of the best things in life: children who carry special stories that spark the childlike faith in me and the presence of nature.
For me coming back to Mirai no Mori camp resembles rest and reset in my life. A summer spent with children running around in the woods, sleeping in tents, hearing about the wild dreams nurturing inside of the children during team talks and late night tent duties open up my perspective and kindle the imagination within me. The campers, not to forget the LITs, all have gone through some level of adversities in their life from such a young age.
Despite it all, to see them move beyond the hurts of the past and gradually being restored in their joy through one week of challenges and opportunities at camp, only excites me to dream of unleashing more of their hidden potential.
With that desire in mind, this past semester, my dear friend and I initiated a social project in Korea to fundraise for winter camp 2019. Our vision was to light up the dreams of the children by selling handmade candles. Our project (LIT Project) turned out to be a success. With the support of my peers, in less than a month, we sold over hundred candles and raised 60,000+ yen.
By executing this project, not only my dear friend, who had not known about Mirai no Mori or about the children before, but also supporters and friends had the opportunity to learn more about the issue. Personally, it set a milestone in my journey of establishing Mirai no Mori in Korea and elicited people who wanted to partner with me in this vision.
Likewise, having a group of people that believe in my vision is so important. I am incredibly blessed to know there are people around me that truly dream of making this world a better place. Mirai no Mori camp is one of the best places to meet such people. We might have been strangers at the beginning, but after sharing four weeks of personal space, stargazing, priceless arguments and discussions, we become new sisters and brothers.
Throughout my summers with these new friends, I have been trained in building my soft skills — organization, communication, and punctuality— that I have come live out in my life, school, and workplace.
I am greatly humbled yet proud that I get to enjoy the work that I do. In the moments of genuine pursuit for the best in the children, I come to discover my truest desires to raise up the next generation and make a positive influence over the life time I get to be on earth! What a great joy!
Certainly, these revelations are incomparable to what a summer class or an internship in the office can teach me, and for that, I am so grateful that I can be a part something that is bigger than simply acquiring knowledge or building a career. I hope to continue this journey with the children as they grow and see the fruits of their lives come to harvest as a result of growing with Mirai no Mori.
There are some revelations from the past two years of being at camp that I’d like to share with those who are considering applying for Mirai no Mori Summer Camp. (not in any order)
- Be brave to be silly. Be the authentic self that you are, and don’t let go of that!
- Find out more about yourself in the midst of all the interactions with campers, staffs, and especially with nature.
- You will see your weaknesses, be ready to face them.
- Be ready to quickly adjust to a new group of children.
- Keep a journal. The experiences at camp are actually changing you—whether they seem significant or not. Keep track of any event or emotions you came across during camp by writing it down to reflect on the process of your growth.
- Wake up early in the morning to start the day with the things written on the whiteboard.
- Listen to the sound of the birds and the trees. Nature has much to say only when you are listening. This is true with other things. Let’s listen.
- Enjoy solitude.
- Don’t try to avoid walking into the puddles. Your will eventually have the creeks of your toes, heels filled with mud by the first week—which will take one full week after the camp to fully remove. Worry less of staying clean.
- Enjoy the walk to the stream— smell the trees and the honey comb, and please TRY not to focus on the horse flies.
- If you sniff closely enough, you can smell the honeycombs hidden somewhere in the woods.
- Enjoy the people —children, care workers, and staffs— as much as nature has much to show and tell, humans do also.
- Be ready to say goodbye and remember to carry a handkerchief on the last day of every session.