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The Vivekananda Family Summer Camp - A Small Piece Of Americana

Brij Garg

This popular camp attracts 150 participants for a week each year. It has the features of a typical summer camp: Canoeing, swimming, games, hiking, campfire, arts and crafts, and entertainment. But over the 25 years of its existence, it has also been an experiment to guide the youngsters of Indian origin in finding a healthy balance of two cultures. This year’s camp is from August 8 to 14th, but applications have already started coming in and the indications are that it will fill up by early July. What makes it unique?

So, what are some unique features of the camp? To begin with, it has a Hindu temple in the main program hall. The food served is all vegetarian though not always Indian. When two people meet, they may say Hi but are encouraged to greet each other with Namaste, Hari Om or Jai Shri Krishna. The subjects discussed in the morning classes may include teachings from the Ramayana or Mahabharata. The staff consists of parents who shed their professional garbs and take on the roles of cabin counselors, yoga teachers, cooks, cleaners, watchmen, music teachers. The evening entertainment programs may contain performances of flute or Bharatnatyam depending on the talents of the campers but also typically contains hastily practiced skits from the Mahabharata. The arts and craft projects may contain Rakhi making, rockets, solar cookers or clay modeling reflecting the diversity of available talent pool. The games are played hard and makes everyone sweaty, but they include Indian games such as Kho and Kabaddi. The afternoon relaxation may consist of reading Amar Chitra Katha books from the library, playing a game of chess with a new friend, puttering around with a tabla or just hanging out at the program center.

And, what are the similarities to a typical camp? The youth stay with others of their own age group and not with parents (unless they are below 8). The facilities are typically rented from Girl Scouts of America or similar institutions who run their own summer camp programs. There are lots of woods and fresh air. A pristine, shimmering lake nearby. Professional life guards. Discipline. And a general feeling of fun in spite of the fact that there are no radios, TVs or cell phones.

Life long friendships are formed among the youth at the camp. Just a few days’ common experiences at the camp seems to bring the youngsters very close. Unknowingly, they seem to display the traditions of fast friendships that their parents or grandparents enjoyed with their peers back in India.

First day orientation at the camp teaches that it is OK if the younger children join in front of them in a food line. Once or twice it seems inconvenient to watch the line grow in front of you, but it also instills a family like atmosphere where older siblings watch out for and care for their younger siblings.

Near the end of the camp, canoe race results are always a surprise. It is not the duo of big muscular teen-agers who win the race but often younger kids who emerge as winners. It perhaps underscores the lessons from life that when two people pull together in the same direction, they get much farther than if they pull in conflicting direction!

The camp is run by volunteers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, some of whom have stayed with the camp program since the original camp twenty five years ago. Some young parents, who came as campers at one time, have come with their children. A few recent campers, who are now college students also serve as camp counselors. In addition to serving as a role model to young campers, they add some welcome muscle power in the traditional camper versus staff Kabaddi match at the end of the camp.

The variety of activities, guidance of experienced staff, involvement of parents, infusion of tradition along with the current make the Vivekananda Family Camp a unique experiment each year and a part of Americana.

For more information about the camp and application forms, please follow the links at www.vhp-america.org/camp/.

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