Between the busy-ness of North American camping conference season and the busy-ness of spring preparations for our North American summer camp season, there is an annual, small window of time that has allowed for a different kind of camp training. Informed travel into different parts of the world can extend our learning and growth. The International Camping Fellowship has been able to participate in some of the important and innovative work going on in those countries. While we all work concertedly to better both our own camps and our local camping movement, this activity in other countries offers additional tools to inform that work.
Today, amongst many other changes in China, education reform is taking an important place in future development. These changes affect the future of approximate 163 million children from Grade 1 to Grade 9 (data from year 2015） International cultural convergence and citizenship awareness are just two parts of the major focus of Chinese education reforming. Educational reform may not necessarily turn immediately to the camping world but, as we all know, the camping world has plenty to offer the worlds of education and youth development, if educators were only to listen. Recently the Education Bureau of Nanshan District Shenzhen China (managing 99 primary and high schools; total student population of 130,000) has recognized this important fact and as a result has turned to the camping community to better understand how it can inform some of their reform decisions. LeShine Camping Group has been running a wide variety of camping and camping-style programs for many years – some of which serve the Nanshan Bureau itself. In March, the Bureau and LeShine sponsored a professional development conference for teachers and administrators in the form of a Camp Program Design Course and an International Camping Education Congress. These programs were intended to serve teachers in the Board. Camp presenters from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore supported the program.
The focus of the conferences was to provide the professional education community of Nanshan Region with a better understanding of the role of experiential education and camp-style education in meeting new curriculum goals. In all, over 200 directors and school teachers participated in the two training events. At one point during the conference, 35 primary and high school principals representing those 130,000 students were actively participating in a conversation on how to translate intention into practice, objectives into outcomes.
How valuable would it be if similar conversations could be generated here?
Later on in March, there were a series of workshops in meetings in Beijing. The concept of camp-style and non-formal education is expanding and evolving very rapidly in Beijing as well. In just one year, anyone observing the camping community in China will have noticed significant and remarkable changes. Parents, educators, camp leaders and, of course, children are involved at ‘China-speed’ in developing these new opportunities through camping. Camping businesses and camping services are springing up every day. Foreign travel to North American camps is just one of those services. Other programs are being established in schools and camp sites. Inbound foreign involvement to develop those services is arriving regularly. Many people – including educators – are speaking the language of camping and working to translate it effectively in the Chinese culture. When you consider the potential impact of so large a population on the future of the world’s environment, politics and leadership, the importance of getting it right is enormous.
How important is it for us to consider these changes as we develop our own future?
Finally, on the other side of Asia a different yet similar story is going on in Ukraine. The DEC Education Group is just one of several organizations committed to strengthening professional development within the camping community in Ukraine. Towards that end DEC organized a two day-conference in April on all aspects of camp operations for camp professionals. That is not remarkable in and of itself but like Nanshan Education Bureau in China, the Ministry of Education for Ukraine has recognized the value of the summer camp model to meet one particular key outcome for the immediate future. Ukraine is determined to strengthen its relationship with the West and with the global community at large. It has determined that one way to do that is to educate its youth in English. Schools and teachers have been asked to strengthen their delivery systems for this important skill through camping and so the camping community is assisting teachers to understand the broader learning outcomes that can be achieved at camp. For this reason a third day of the DEC conference was developed specifically for teachers. Educators who are now being encouraged to design, implement and improve summer camp programs for the delivery and development of stronger English language skills in their schools are being assisted by the Ukraine camping community.
How valuable would it be if similar conversations could be generated here?
Affirm, Inspire, Inform
We are not all the same – we have no wish to be. Neither are we all completely different – nor should we be. What is going on in countries on the other side of the world may not affect us directly but we know that they affect us inevitably. These ripples do make their way to us. As much as we might wish our camps to be apart from these and other influences, we also know that we are a part of them. Our campers and staff must operate in both the oasis of Camp and the reality of the rest of their lives.
It seems that it be worth the time, then, to draw something from these stories. To affirm our work with the knowledge that there are others who also ‘get it’, who believe in it and who are working to achieve similar goals in their own settings. To draw inspiration from these efforts by others and renew our own efforts to make a difference with each camper and staff member who come into our care. To be better informed on techniques, language and strategies that may also work for us as we try help those who do not quite ‘get’ camping to better understand the value of what we do.
If nothing else, as we roll up our sleeves for our North American summer, we can imagine – and know that other camp leaders across the world are doing the same thing – for the same reasons.
Wallace Forgie travelled to India to serve as Secretary to the Madras chapter of the YMCA. After retiring in 1936, he remained in India and devoted his life to improving the lives of underprivileged children by building a camp.
Two years after his retirement, Wallace Forgie set up Camp Tonakela. Apparently, Forgie chose the Canadian-Indian name meaning ‘NOT FOR SELF’ but it also sounds like “THANUKKU ILLA” in Tamil, which too means not for self.
Forgie came to India as part of YMCA outreach but became an admirer of Indian culture and religion, which were much more integrated into people’s lives. He left the Y and began this mission on his own with support from camps in Canada.
Forgie, founder of Ottawa YMCA Camp On-da-da-waks and with vast experience in outdoor camping, felt that city-folk needed to be encouraged to enjoy camping. In 1946, 15 acres of land was acquired in Avadi by the Camp Tonakela Association. The Camp’s objective was, in Forgie’s own words, “to provide a well-equipped camp site, conduct training in camping and in the leadership of every form of character building activities.” Forgie also had a vision of helping the nearby villagers enhance their skills in gardening, agriculture, handicrafts and cottage industry. Camp Tonakela was to act as the support centre for these villagers who were interested in developing their skills.
Now, in its 75th year, Camp Tonakela continues to enthrall nature lovers with its beauty and mystery. Camp Tonakela offers 15 acres of greenery with lots of trees and shrubs, a small pond and a covered swimming pool, all within its compound. There are 24 tents, adequate sanitation facilities and a kitchen with utensils for the campers to use.
Wally Forgie was “a kindly man with a lot of integrity and a desire to help and uplift persons he worked with and worked for without regard to religion, caste, etc. in the finest tradition of the YMCA,” a Canadian colleague writes. Another colleague recalls, “My earliest recollection of Wally Forgie was during one of his visits to Camp On-da-da-waks in or about 1959-60. He was particularly fascinated with the many pine cones scattered about the camp property and was quite intent on taking a number of them back to Madras…”
Nowadays, over 1200 campers, 800 picnickers and 1000 swimmers use the Camp’s facilities. Day-to-day expenses are met by the income from camps, picnics and swimming. Capital expenditure has to come from donations. The Camp Tonakela connection to Canada and to ICF goes on…
The headquarters for the International Camping Fellowship is located at Camp Tawingo in Canada. Camp Tawingo was founded by Jack Pearse, a former director of YMCA Camp On-da-da-waks . On-da-da-waks, which means ‘Men of the Woods’ in the Algonquin language, was recognized as the oldest in Ontario while it ran (until 1967). Camp Tawingo and several other camps in Canada sent annual donations to Camp Tonakela for many years.