BY ALIQUE KELECHIAN
It’s been heard many times over, that Camp Zavarian is a truly inspiring experience for young kids to be able to learn about the topics they love most. They get to learn about Armenia’s history, songs that help them better understand their culture, and hobbies—like cooking, art, acting, and dancing. Although these lessons are offered at Camp Zavarian, kids can learn them anywhere. What makes Camp Zavarian so special?
It is strongly agreed that the lifelong friendships and the close bonds that are created at Camp Zavarian are what makes the camp extraordinary.
In a new environment where a child does not know anybody else, it is easy to feel like a stranger. At Camp Zavarian, the dedicated teachers and volunteers are where a child’s feeling of belonging begins, and helps them warm up to this summer camp. As they grow more and more familiar with their mentors, the campers also begin to warm up to the other kids, and instantaneously, they will form a bond that will follow their every step in the future.
One example is given by Preny Ayvazian, explaining the social journey of one particular camper: “One girl came on her first day, not knowing anyone. I noticed she was alone and looked nervous so I went up to her and asked her some questions to get to know her. Around lunch time, I noticed she was still a bit nervous, so I helped her out and told her to sit with another group of girls and introduced her to them. They were extremely welcoming and happy to meet her. By the end of the day I noticed that she was so happy and comfortable, even though she was completely terrified that same morning.” With the welcoming and nurturing environment at Camp Zavarian, students can learn to be more social and accepting of one another.
“The bonds formed with these students over a short eight weeks are completely different from bonds made over a school year,”said Preny, explaining how even as a teacher, the connections made at Camp Zavarian are incredible. The interactive environment at the camp creates an entirely new social world for the kids that they would not be exposed to in regular schools. The team building activities and games help the campers meet new people every day, giving them familiar faces everywhere they look.
Friendship is a strong motif at Camp Zavarian, as it reoccurs with everything a camper does. With every daily activity that is done, the bonds that campers make with one another grow stronger. For example, as they cook and bake delicious treats, the students use teamwork through every step of the cooking process. They learn to help each other as the kids share the roles of measuring, whisking, mixing, and more. There is a story of friendship and bonding behind every cookie. Friendship and baking complement each other so strongly, that the staff of Camp Zavarian even made an entire cookie recipe dedicated to friendship. The Camp’s “friendship cookies” convey that with the friendship and teamwork of different ingredients; out will come a delicious and wonderful creation.
Aside from food, friendships are strengthened through campers inspiring each other during arts and crafts, learning together while they do scientific activities, and are introduced to others through games and teamwork exercises. One big goal that connects every camper, volunteer, and teacher is the end of summer performance the Camp presents each year. After about two months of preparing and working together, the Camp Zavarian family shares the songs, plays, and dances to the campers’ eternally proud parents. As the campers had all prepared for this continuously successful night, their common goals bring them closer to bonds they would have never expected to have.
As for myself, as a volunteer for a couple years at Camp Zavarian, I can confirm that even the volunteers create lifelong bonds. The volunteers stay in touch even through the school year, where they are in different schools and rarely see each other. Throughout the year, volunteers continue to connect with one other, all longing for the summertime when they can reunite and work together for another successful summer.
During the summer, parents have multiple summer camp choices for their kids, but through the eyes of these kids, no summer camp can compare to Camp Zavarian. The structure of every activity of the camp always leads back to friendship and bonding. Campers can agree that even when they aren’t at camp, the friendships they made there follow them everywhere they go. Camp Zavarian is the camp where a camper can be surrounded with familiar faces everywhere, even if they do not know everyone’s names. It’s a place where friends become family.
Camp Zavarian is a daytime camp where the campers, split into three age groups, participate in different activities. These activities include: cooking, yoga, swimming, Zumba, drama classes, learning social skills, and playing games with other campers. Before breakfast, the campers have the opportunity to learn about their culture in the form of stories, songs, and various other creative means of sharing knowledge. After breakfast, the campers split up by age and play the different activities designed for their skill levels. After lunch, the campers get to choose whether they want to swim or playing board games. These activities are followed by a snack break, where fruits and cookies are provided for the campers.
Individuals interested in volunteering at Camp Zavarian must be mindful of the camp schedule, to know exactly when the volunteer trainings will take place, in the weeks prior to the camp officially opening. Volunteers will then be given the proper guidance needed to not only care for young children, but to complete the day-to-day activities/tasks that Camp Zavarian entails. The Camp’s main goal is to provide a space for members of the Armenian community to fully immerse themselves into the culture during the summer, especially for those individuals who are unable to attend Armenian schools.