‘The people become one’: summer camp strengthens community

A summer camp that offers academic support to students has shown results across the community far beyond the original goal of helping kids prepare for the new school year – building bonds between families and across cultures in Edmonton.

“When we started we mostly worked with African families who had just arrived,” said Lado Luala, founder and executive director of Nyarkenyi Development Foundation. “We want to include everybody who thinks they need help, no matter how many years they have been in Canada. Maybe you’ve been here ten years, maybe you were born here. These people need help too.”

As the camp has evolved, Nyarkenyi has put a concerted effort into connecting to as many new Canadian families as possible, regardless of where they came from or how recently they arrived.

This focused effort on more inclusion is showing itself to be successful in the summer camps, as a wider range of Edmontonians are accessing the program.

“Especially this year we have more kids who are new, coming from Arab countries like Syria and Iraq,” said Luala. “The organization was founded by people from South Sudan but this is for everyone. We can make something better when everyone is involved.”

Luala says he has seen these positive results spill out into the community. As the program involves more and more youth of different backgrounds, relationships are built between the parents and the community is strengthened as a whole.

“All those people come and you can feel the people become one – they see their kids playing and know each other’s names in the home. It brings the community together,” he said. “I think that this is how we can help all of the community do better,” he said.

The camp, which served 85 children and ran throughout the month of August this year, provided children with academic help, opportunities to play sports and interesting speakers from the University of Alberta to encourage them to set high academic goals. The camp was held at J.D Bracco School, with support from the Joint Use Summer Access program.

By giving students an aptitude test at the beginning of the camp, they can be placed in the right class to focus on the skills they will need to succeed in September.

“The idea is not just to keep them busy through the summer but to help them with their education first,” said Luala. “Some kids may be in Grade 6 in school, but really they are at a Grade 4 skill level. This way when school starts they will be ready.”

Through special presentations from professionals like engineers from the University of Alberta, the students are exposed to role models and are able to see clearly how working hard at their studies can pay off in the future.

Luala says he has seen this contribute to healthier relationships in the home firsthand, as three of his own children have attended Nyarkenyi since its inception.

“The children, now they listen to their parents and go to school and do better because they know if they do well they can go to university and then come back and help other kids, like these role models,” he said. “Before, homework was just a challenge, but now they are hearing what their parents are saying. You can see, everybody changes. They are all doing better.”

Other parents have seen similar positive changes in their own children after attending the camp for a few years.

“They can see the children changing. Some of them, they doubted before. Now they can see they keep doing better every year,” said Luala. “They become an example, even in their house. And they unite their family too. The kids themselves, they do amazing things.”

The program also helps parents over the summer months by giving the children a structured, supervised place to be.

“Before, one parent has to stay home – not going to work or school – so this program helps the parents out a lot too,” he said.