Submitted by Karishma Konikkara, Community Engagement Intern
“The camp leaders were so good, we learned kickboxing, dancing, cooking and the tree of life,” said 12-year-old Zoe to her grandmother, who had asked Zoe what she loved most about summer camp. Zoe immigrated from China and participated in the Camp Connect Explorers program in August.
Summer may be over, but the benefits of building new friendships and community relationships and having wonderful shared experiences with different cultural groups will be carried forward by all the youth who attended ICA’s summer camp program in July and August. A dedicated team of Settlement Youth Workers organize, develop and run our summer camp programs and create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for the youth and children to make new connections, learn new skills and have fun.
Newcomers arriving in Canada undergo several challenges, including experiencing cultural differences and getting introduced to new values. “Being in a new place can be a little overwhelming,” said Nabeela Ramji, a Settlement Youth Worker who was a part of the summer camp. “We try to bring them into the community and help see themselves in the communities around them.”
One recognizes culture through different perspectives. Kids, youth and adults all perceive culture in a different manner. “Culture is a complex term for youth of this age,” said Robin McGeough, a Settlement Youth Worker at ICA. “Their idea of fitting in means taking yourself out of your culture and being like everybody else.”
The organizers’ primary focus was to use the youths’ backgrounds and cultures — China, Syria, Korea, Congo, Nepal, India and Mexico — as a foundation for a learning experience. “Summer camps are a Canadian experience, and we want kids to have a space to learn and build communities,” said McGeough.
This year, ICA conducted summer camps beginning in mid-July and the first week of August: Adventures and Explorers camp for the kids and a Youth Meet-Up Camp program for youth 15-24. The two Camp Connect programs for ages 7 to 14 years included a visit to the Quadra Village Community Centre, a photography project, kickboxing, karate classes, Zumba classes, science and tech programs, beads and T-shirt art along with lots of outdoor activity.
In partnership with the wonderful staff from Power To Be, the older group, ages 15-24, visited Prospect Lake and spent an incredible night camping right on the beach at Sombrio Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. “For many of the youth, this was their first time taking on an adventure of this magnitude,” said McGeough. “To sleep under the stars, cook our own meals and connect with our community around the fire created strong bonds and trust that we couldn’t have achieved in a classroom.”
ICA follows a camp format that includes aspects of heart, mind, body and soul to help connect the youth. “We end the summer camp with a family day where parents are invited. This really helps them build new communities,” said McGeough. “Camp leaders also empowered youths and created space to talk about their culture. We want them to celebrate their culture. The uniqueness of who they are, speaking their own language, having their cultural values and consuming food which people may not know.”
Challenges can arise in a community rich in cultural diversity, and the youth workers used compassion to help everyone learn positive conflict resolution strategies to deal with problems and strengthen relationships. The youth workers witnessed much kindness between kids and youth during the bead-work project. “They gifted beads to people they felt grateful towards and some also apologized for their wrongdoings by distributing beads braided by them,” said McGeough. “In this way, they contributed to the benefit of the community and created a friendly atmosphere.”
The Youth and Family Services team have some interesting plans in store for future camps. “We want to be able to invest in the development of kids and conduct more backcountry camping to develop their skills,” said McGeough.
When asked about what youth workers found most memorable during the camp, McGeough laughed and said a country rap song called “Old Town Road” was popular.