By Whitney Conner, LSG's Camp Mosaic and Refugee After School Program Coordinator
I sat down across from Amare*, watching his little face as tears streamed down his cheeks. A few days into our first week of camp, it had been a rough morning for my newest elementary school friend. He was having a difficult time adjusting, unsure of himself and his new surroundings.
I sat and listened as he told me about his home country. He described the food they ate and the games they played. I got teary eyed listening to him share pieces of his experience. We laughed together as he reminisced about fun times with his cousins, grandparents, and their farm. We were sad together as he shared how much he misses the extended family he left behind. Their home country remains unsafe for him and his family, but it is home nonetheless. He worried about being the only child at camp from his home country and the only one who speaks his language, unsure how to make friends when he struggles to communicate and doesn’t know who to trust. The words that came to mind as we sat together, reflecting on his journey in games and drawings, were fear, grief, transition, adjustment. However, the biggest was isolation.
It’s in moments like these that I am reminded why we do the work that we do, how we truly are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are called to embrace and love the foreigner, to welcome them. For, if we do not, who else will? For many, summer camp may simply be an opportunity to get their kids out of the house during the summer stretch, but for these children it is a source of needed connection and community. It is “welcome” to them!
During Camp Mosaic, the children are encouraged to seek, celebrate and embrace all of our stories and cultures, painting a greater story as a mosaic of our community. Children from around the globe stepped into camp with cultural and ethnic walls, only to leave camp with deeper friendships and an empowered strength that allowed them to embrace their differences.
At the end of our first year of camp, I am in awe of how Camp Mosaic served to paint a broader picture of community, crossing borders and mending hearts affected by conflict on a personal level. As I was driving camp carpool one morning, I discovered that I had two children from different sides of the same international conflict in the back seat of my 4Runner. The children jumped into my car, excited to share news from their home countries. Their leaders had met, hugged, and decided to move forward in peace. The kids were elated, sharing their joy that conflict was over. They were grateful that family members in their home country had been able to reconnect with friends and family from the opposing side after years of being forbidden to contact them. Peace and reconciliation had started in the backseat of an SUV during camp carpool weeks before, but was being evidenced in the celebration of two children in Clarkston, GA regarding international issues of their home countries.
As I prepare to go back to Clarkston High School for our 2018-2019 after school program, continuing the work we began at Camp Mosaic, I am reminded of my elementary school friend Amare. You know, the one with the tear-streaked cheeks? He is starting school this week. But, he will not begin in the way he began camp. Now Amare has a sense of belonging and connection. Through Camp Mosaic, he experienced the fruit of welcome and the bridging of gaps that helped him make friends. He is no longer alone in his community, for he found his place of belonging in a greater mosaic that is the Clarkston story.
Thank you to all who partnered in donating time, space at Living Grace Lutheran Church, sports equipment, and many other things! You played a key role in helping our kids thrive as they step into a different season of their stories, something that will serve as foundational in their ability to not just survive, but to thrive.
Thanks to your support, we had a wonderful summer!
About Camp Mosaic
Launched this summer, Mosaic is a trauma informed and resiliency development summer day camp, created to help refugee and immigrant kids aged k-12 to adjust to life in the United States. Kids also had the opportunity to be assessed for PTSD, anxiety, and other clinical mental health barriers they might be facing. In addition to receiving mental health support, kids were given one-on-one reading and literacy instruction, lessons in science and technology, math lessons, as well as opportunities to engage in therapeutic art and journaling activities.
Teens in the program were given leadership roles, allowing the chance to complete required community service hours for high school graduation, as well as opportunities to feel empowered in their skills and abilities to lead. The children went on numerous field trips, giving them a chance to explore their new community and city, including a trip to Zoo Atlanta, which hosted a backstage tour just for our children.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy