by Scotty Scott
The USA continues to be a country of immigrants. Many of us work to welcome folks from all over the world into our communities. The Religious Society of Friends has a long history of aid and support to refugees. It was out of this background that I invited three refugee children from Burma (Myanmar) to attend Opequon Quaker Camp this summer with my grandson, Qade. These children are “cousins” to my grandson and live near him in Clarksville, Arkansas. Their parents work at the Tyson Meat Packing plant there.
Before moving to the USA four years ago under the auspices of Catholic Charities, this family of 6 children and 2 adults had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand. It is interesting to note that the family are Karen people, an ethnic group from the southern and southeastern area of Burma. Many Karen people are Christians, unlike the majority of the citizens of Burma who are Buddhists. Only the oldest children were born in Burma, as the family left their homeland and went to Thailand to escape the difficult life under military rule.
Needless to say, we needed scholarship help for Paw Htoo, age 13, Lu Htoo, age 11, and Paw Say, age 9, to attend camp. I sent out an appeal to my family, friends, and some BYM Friends, asking them to contribute to the camping program scholarships. About 30 people responded to my appeal, raising over $4,000 cash. In addition, several of us volunteered to fill work grant positions at the camps to help cover their expenses. Some Friends, plus the parents of these children, bought the necessary supplies and equipment children need to bring to camp.
And what an experience these children had! In my report to donors I described the scene on their return home after camp: “Everyone was so excited and so full of stories. Paw Say tried to teach us all of the songs she learned at camp. Between arguments over the words, they managed to share several songs and rounds that are frequently sung. Lu described his back packing and rock climbing trip, with a lot of input from Qade, who was in the same unit. Qade shared how they dug clay from the creek and created an imaginary landscape. And Paw Htoo gave an hysterical account of flipping over his canoe, and then dramatically helping his friends maneuver their canoes off some rocks in the river. All four campers spoke of the friendships they made with other campers and the counselors who guided them in all their activities.”
Aside from these highlights, campers also participated in workshops. A group dug clay out of the creek and built a group landscape. Later they added individual clay figures to the landscape. Paw Say and Lu Htoo both sewed together “monsters” they created with fabric. Many chose to go swimming all afternoon on the hottest day of their session. The last day of camp it is a tradition for everyone to dip candles for use at the closing or “graduation” circle. However, these are not just traditional dipped candles, as many campers become extremely creative in creating their candle with different shapes and colors.
On the drive back to Arkansas from Virginia, all four campers asked to return next summer. I promised them we would make that possible. The BYM Camping Program is as committed to our campers, as our campers are committed to us. Once children come to camp, we do everything possible to make sure they can return as often as they like.
BYM Camps are wonderful communities for children, helping them grow through challenging and fun experiences. Sponsoring children like Paw Htoo, Lu Htoo and Paw Say to attend is just part of what we do, the commitment we make to build strong, grounded youth who will one day say “Quaker Camp Changed My Life.”