By Talia Kalender
On August 10-17, 2019, the Annual Diocesan Summer Youth Camp “Ararat” was held under the auspices of His Grace Bishop Abgar Hovakimyan, Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Canada.
Camp Ararat just had a very exciting year. This year marked the 15th year anniversary of our beloved Camp Ararat. Not only was it their 15th year anniversary, but we had an outstanding number of campers this year, with almost 190 bodies including campers, counsellors and staff as part of the Camp Ararat family.
What makes Camp Ararat so unique and special is the programming. Youth all over Canada including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Laval, Mississauga, Hamilton, St. Catherines and Vancouver come together for a week to explore their identity and learn about the Armenian culture, language and faith.
This year, the theme was the Year of The Family, as well as celebrating 150 years of Komidas. Our daily programming was built on this theme. In the mornings, our younger campers rotate among religion, heritage, and sports programming.
This year, religion class was led by clergymen, Der Hrant from Hamilton and Der Gomidas from Laval. Each day campers were guided to engage in their faith via a number of different activities teaching them about our religion and how to make a stronger relationship with God.
Heritage and Culture is another important part of a camper’s morning. Each day, different activities related to Armenian art, dance, language and drama are programmed for the campers to learn about their Armenian culture & heritage. Since some campers do not speak Armenian, we take pride in providing opportunities for these campers to learn and connect with their Armenian Identity in ways other than just language. This year, we also had campers who did not speak much English. It was truly heart-warming to see Armenian youth communicate, bond and create friendships even with a language barrier.
The Heritage and Arts & Crafts programming was very special this year. Hovhaness Toumanian was the theme. Campers read Toumanian fables with Der Gomidas in both Armenian and English, with translations done by Baron Simonian. Campers then acted out the fables through plays during drama. Finally, as a craft campers traced with carbon paper Toumanian characters onto keepsake T-shirts which campers then signed for each other. Every year, it is important for campers to take their creations home and keep them to remind them not only of their positive camp memories, but also information about their culture.
Physical activity is very important for youth, and Camp Ararat makes sure that the campers are active all day. Each morning, counsellors run different sports and games. They play traditional sports like soccer and basketball, but also other cooperative and team building games.
While the younger campers are spending their time in the mentioned rotations, the older campers have a very different morning. Campers aged 14 & 15, are part of a special program run by a very special group of people, The Camp Ararat “Challenge”. The Challenge is a race that the campers complete every day in special groups with a clear winner at the end of the week. Each day, groups undergo physical, cultural, mental, and academic activities against their peers to come out on top. This year, there was extra effort put on including S.T.E.M activities to further activate the minds of our bright youth. This year the Challenge theme was Marvel. Each team was composed of different superhero characters that they all embodied as the week went on. It was great to see such creativity and enthusiasm in the creation, execution and participation of the Challenge this year.
After lunch, campers continued with camp-wide programming. Each day, counsellors ran lectures on varying Armenian topics. Topics included The History of Armenian Music, Debunking Myths in Armenian History, Armenians & The Indigenous, and Volunteerism & Being a Global Citizen. A “family tree” activity was also completed and shared with the campers demonstrating where our families came from and how they had migrated throughout the generations and into the diaspora.
Next comes the afternoon programming. Each day, campers were able to enjoy a number of different water related activities including the beach waterfront, large swimming pool, and “Djur Ashkhar” where campers got to play water games on the field. In addition to the water activities, campers also enjoy fishing, archery and BB gunning.
After some free time, it is time to eat dinner! After dinner, our evening program begins. Every night, counsellors created camp-wide activities. These activities relate back to our annual theme, this year being the Year of the Family. A family-based “escape room”, Family Feud, CIT Olympics, and Talent Show & Dance were part of the evening program this year.
Camp Ararat also runs a program for those who are too old to be a camper, but too young to be a counsellor. These 16-17 year olds are part of the two year Counsellor in Training program. They work with experienced staff who train them on how to be a great leader in their communities and a great counsellor at Camp Ararat. Team-building, cooperation and role-playing activities are heavily incorporated into the program.
Every year, Camp Ararat is blessed with a great team of carefully selected counsellors from across Canada. Each year, there are a number of counsellors who have been coming back for years, and a number of counsellors who want to be part of the Camp Ararat family for the first time. The Camp Ararat doors are always open for who ever wants to be a part of it. Without this strong group, our campers would not be able to have such an unforgettable experience.
For the first time since its establishment, upon completion of the Camp program, all the campers, counsellors and staff received their certificates.
We are proud that the Armenian Youth of Canada have an opportunity like Camp Ararat. Thank you to everyone who makes every year special.