Teens From Around the Globe Focus on Peace at Olympic Camp
Language is not a barrier to having 'the time of our lives'
ROME, GA. — The hundreds of teens on campus here look at first glance like any young crowd ready for a good time. But the dozens of languages floating through the air at the 1996 Olympic Youth Camp make it clear the students are here for a different kind of party - a party for peace.
The camp, which is held at the option of each Olympic host country, brings together 500 young people from 157 countries represented in the Games.
For two weeks, they attend Olympic events, play sports, go to dances together - all in an atmosphere that strives to break down nationalistic barriers by encouraging the acceptance of international cultures and languages.
"It's absolutely amazing," says James MacAllister, a 17-year-old from Scotland. "This is the best thing that I have ever experienced."
The first Olympic Youth Camp was held in 1912 during the Olympic Games in Stockholm. Since then, most Olympic committees have decided in favor of hosting the camp.
During the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, the Olympic Youth Camp gathered 850 young people from 48 countries. In 1992, the camp's 497 participants came from 67 countries.
This year the Olympic Youth Camp was held the last two weeks of July at Berry College here. While the number of participants had to be pared down this year because of costs, each Olympic country has the chance to send outstanding youths to the Olympic Youth Camp.
To be selected, nominees wrote essays, interviewed, or were observed while participating in group activities. Those who passed all of the tests were invited to attend the 1996 Olympic Youth Camp. Delegates from each country decide how to make the camp opportunity available.
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and sports teams were some of the ways that kids found out about the camp. Other young people found out through their schools, churches, and volunteer organizations.
The National Olympic Committee for each country transports its campers to and from Atlanta. Once the campers arrive, everything else is paid for by corporate sponsors. The only financial "burden" on campers is purchasing souvenirs and Olympic memorabilia.
As a part of the '96 Olympic Youth Camp, the students went to some events, toured the Olympic Village, and saw performances of the Olympic Arts Festival.
Daily, campers select from two of three activities: arts and communications, sports, and adventure. In arts and communications, they learn about journalism, photography, and art. The sports group gets to participate in different games such as handball and field hockey. In the adventure group, campers practice wall climbing, ropes courses, and wilderness survival.
Many campers also choose to participate in a peace forum, in which they produce a document outlining their ideas for achieving world peace.
John Moore, a Berry College student and a team leader for the camp, says this experience "really is incredible. These kids are having the times of their lives."
Along with these structured activities, campers also have free time each day, which they use to meet each other, watch the Games on television, or explore the campus.
The camp is "a chance to meet people from all over the world," says Louise Broune, an Irish 17-year-old.
Communication has not been as difficult a task as might be imagined. Since so many people have gathered from different countries, there are "translators galore," says Lauren Panepinto, a 17-year-old camper from New York. Hand signals are a major part of communicating, she adds. Many campers share a similar assessment of Atlanta: It is a big place with lots of skyscrapers. Their biggest complaint is the heat.
"Ireland is cool, windy, and rainy," says Ms. Broune.
Aruba native Aldrick Maduro says his country is just as hot as Atlanta, but "there is always a cool sea breeze coming over the white beaches." Campers are beating the heat by drinking lots of water and wearing lightweight clothing.
The 2000 Olympic Games will be held in Sydney, where plans are already under way to have an Olympic Youth Camp. Australian Chris Palmer is a camper this year who hopes to volunteer as a team leader four years from now.
The motto for the Olympic Youth Camp is "We are more alike than different." The campers come from different countries and speak different languages, but they are discovering that, as people, they are more than just their geographic locations or regional dialects.
*Jennifer Hill works for VOX, the first teen publication to cover the Olympic Games.