My kids -- like so many around the United States -- are busy getting ready for summer camp. They are anticipating who their bunkmates will be and what adventures they will have -- sports, swimming, nature hikes, sailing, fishing, camping, ghost stories, campfires, plays, arts and crafts and songs. But millions of kids around the world don't have anything to look forward to when school lets out. They spend summers isolated, listless and even hungry, since schools often provide the only full meals kids get. That's why the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO) is bringing camp to Vietnam, Ethiopia and Haiti. We want to make sure every kid gets the chances to enjoy this rite of passage.
The core values and the curriculum of a great camp should be universal. Camp is about connection, community/team building and independence. A good camp demonstrates a commitment to each camper's well-being and a curriculum that builds definable life skills. Most importantly, camp should be packed with fun and play. Play is the driving force for intellectual development in children, rich or poor.
Camp is one of the many tools WWO uses to help children play and be happy. The skills camp teaches -- leadership, teamwork, creativity -- can have a powerful role in building a civil society in the midst of rampant poverty, violence, war, HIV/AIDS, natural disaster, trafficking, homelessness, environmental toxicity and lack of access to education, good mental health and healthcare disparities.
Camp is a magic elixir. I loved camp as a child because it gave me the independence I needed to succeed in life. I often tell people that if I hadn't gone off to camp, I might still be living at home!
So what about camp for kids without parents and families? What does it look like for them? It looks strange at first, especially if they have had no play or their bellies are empty. Nutritious meals (food security) are necessary to play. WWO's camp is focused on strength both physically and mentally. Once the belly is full, play can be hearty and mindless. Orphans at camp become free and joyful; they forget their sadness and become expansive and visionary about fun. Our daily Super Camper Celebration is a precious moment, where kids compete to make up silly original songs, show off their finger painting skills or perform group skits. Water play and drinking clean water -- which abound at our sites -- is their right, and we are hellbent on providing everything that is a child's right. Bonding is deep and counselors are skilled at kisses and hugs. Shall I go on?
WWO has partnered with SeriousFun Children's Network (Hole in the Wall Camps) to run camps in Ethiopia and Vietnam, and this summer we will open a camp for kids with HIV/AIDS in Haiti in partnership with SeriousFun and our new partner, L'Envol from Paris. Two weeks of outdoor play for 80 children. There are millions of kids around the world who need camp. Yes, they need it and we should give it to them.
Follow Dr. Jane Aronson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wworphans