When was the last time that as many as 165 Indian American youths got together, went canoeing and played garba-raas (an Indian traditional dance) at one place on a given day?
This is what precisely was done at the just concluded 2007 annual Houston area Hindu Heritage Camp, which attracted a record number of 165 campers between the ages of 7 and 17 years.
It is basically the focus of Hindu culture and community, which has kept the camp thriving over the course since 22 years. And it is the reason why, this year the camp had a waiting list of as many as 40 kids.
Organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the camp, which is now popular among Indian-American children of the region was first started more than two decades ago by a few visionary Hindus in Houston in an effort to preserve the Hindu culture and values.
Over the years, the baton was gradually shifted to the youths, who have not only successfully run the camp, but also has made it one of the most popular Hindu summer camps in North America.
?It is all because of the teachings and grooming the kids get in this short stay at the camp. That is the reason why, parents want to send their children to the camp here year after year,? said Sharad Amin, one of the founders of the camp.
In fact, it is now the third generation of campers who have started coming to the annual event. ?This shows the success of our efforts,? Amin said, adding first a child comes here as a camper and later on they become volunteer to make the camp a great success and continue the tradition.
?The objective of the camp is imbibe among these young boys and girls the values of our great Indian culture through fun, play and workshops,? said Amin, who this year too was present at the camp from July 24 to 29.
He was among the five adult volunteers including two doctors at the camp. Interestingly, unlike many other camps, food for some 200 people here was not supplied by caterers, but was prepared by these adult volunteers. Except for these five, the four day event was purely organised by the young Indian American volunteers of the Houston region.
Numbering 30, these volunteers from diverse group of college students had attended the camp in the past. It is these young counsellors who make the camp a popular event, which is being looked forward every year by the parents and children both.
All through the five days, children from elementary and high school remain onsite at the Gordon Campsite in Richmond, Texas, during which they participate in a structured routine of exercises, games, sports, skits, prayers (in multiple languages), and educational sessions.
In addition they have a fun-thrilled evening activity that includes icebreaker games, a scavenger hunt, a talent show, a garba-raas, and a skit night.
However, the main attraction of the camp is its annual theme, which is carefully chosen by the Counselors and around which the entire camp revolves.
This year'stheme was ?The Concept of God in Hinduism.? Counselors prepared topics that addressed the wide variety of perceptions of God within the Hindu tradition (i.e. as a mother, father, child, guru, king, queen, lover, element of nature, or energy).
Besides, fun and play each camper had three hours of different education topics per day that covered a variety of subject matters during the entire camp.
Topics ranged from ?Hindu symbols? to the ?Trimurti? for elementary, ?Hinduism in western culture? to the ?four ashramas? for the middle school, and ?reincarnation? to the ?misconception of multiple Gods in Hinduism? for high school.
?I was excited that the campers really enjoyed my education session. The surprising lesson I learned was that I gained insight into campers and learned so much from them,? said Divya Danda, a Counselor.
A campers day normally begins at 7 a.m. in the morning prayer ?Pratah Smaran?. After this the campers were divided into three groups – as per their age – during which they play various cultural activities and trained into yogic exercises like the popular ?Surya Namaskaar? that would help them maintain a healthy life.
The afternoons are spent making arts and crafts and attending education sessions. Arts and crafts were a favorite for many campers, a time when they were able to artistically create memorable keepsakes from camp.
Evening recreation time gave the campers a chance to relax and engage in their favorite outdoor activities, including swimming, canoeing, and basketball. Before dinner, the campers sang bhajans, the camp song, and Aarti. Night was filled with an organised activity: a scavenger hunt, talent show, garba-raas, and skit night.
And remember every thing they did revolved around the theme ?The Concept of Hindu God?. For instance the scavenger hunt was structured as yatra, or pilgrimage.
Each of the 18 participating teams had a map of the campsite, on which buildings and trees were re-labeled with the names of holy cities. They hunted for clues, which ultimately came together to form a picture of a particular deity.
On the last day, elementary and middle school children enjoyed a ?walk-through? Ramayana, as they walked from one scene to the other in bunk areas, where groups of high school students enacted the epic.
Constable Troy Nehls of Fort Bend County was chief guest at the closing ceremony on July 29. He has talked on various issues related to law enforcement and security to campers.
?Camp is one time during the year when children have the opportunity to further their education about the Hindu religion, to spend five continuous days under the leadership of counselors who can relate to them, and to create lifelong friendships with their peers,? observed Malvika Khanna, a junior finance and economics major at the University of Texas at Austin.
This is the basic reason why, Amin said the camp in Houston is now high in demand and considered to be one of the best youth camps being held in the US.