Camp cohort suggests future is bright

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Last year, Clutha Leader reporter Jack Conroy went to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp in Queenstown. He loved it so much that he returned this year to put his leadership skills to the test. Here he shares his experience with the young leaders of the future.

Can lightning strike twice?

As I drove to Queenstown in late January for the 2021 Rotary Youth Leadership Camp (RYLA) that is what I thought.

I had a transformative experience at Lakeland Park in 2020, and that is not overstating the case. For me and the others who attended, it really was life-changing.

Unfortunately, we were then plunged with the rest of the country into lockdown. It was a momentum killer.

However, none of us forgot that something special happened that summer.

I felt privileged to have been allowed to return for season two of this strange reality show-type experience in such a beautiful part of the country.

This time I played camp counsellor to the young leaders.

The cast swelled to 35 participants from across the country and a variety of backgrounds.

The best young minds in the nation came together to build connections, share ideas, help people and push themselves to the limit physically, mentally and emotionally.

They were builders, accountants, lawyers, police officers and more.

For five days they would shed those identities and see what damage they could really do with a clean slate and no expectations.

They pooled together food products to create a series of hampers to be given to those in need.

They spent a gruelling afternoon in the sun clearing a huge expanse of gully walking track of dead trees, weeds and pine cones, then replanting it in a matter of hours.

This would become the site of two orienteering courses designed and built by the campers for the enjoyment of future generations.

The real fun began as the teams battled it out in a series of challenges for points and prizes.

I got to see a number of sides of the people in my team, the yellow team, by the end of the camp, including how team members dealt with stress, tiredness, competition and, in some cases, pain.

Katie Moffat’s first leadership test was to help her team leader find the campsite after I picked her up from the airport and my phone immediately died.

Fahim Foysal was my constant reminder that it ‘‘wasn’t over yet’’ as he battled through obstacle courses and tactfully avoided the morning run.

There were Stacey Woods the soccer demon, Cassandra Harvey the presentation whiz and Sarah Manlangit, who went from shy to the big-mouth of the group.

Quinn Bartley, Sam Law, Eden Wilson and Millie Tomlinson tested my patience with constant attempts to bend the rules, which I will not go into.

But it all paid off when they shouted me McDonalds that we ate by the lake on one of the final days.

Well played, guys.
There were many more amazing and interesting characters from the other teams who I did not have as much time to get to know.

Despite all the early-morning exercise and late-night work sessions we forced them through, they did not seem to hate us by the end.

On the final night, as the group celebrated their achievements, I could tell something had changed in them, and I think they could tell too.

If the people I met on this camp are an indication of the direction this country is heading, then the future is looking bright.