Monday, July 25, 2016

Syrian Kids Bring Along Plenty of Baggage (Including a Culture of Gender Apartheid) to Summer Camp

She's trying to be a H.appi Camper, the name of a day camp for Syrian kids that's supposed to help them "transition" to their new home, but, as one young participant admits, Canada is a lot different than Syria. For one thing,
“Here it’s a very diverse culture, you have many people coming from various different countries and backgrounds and religions. Back home we don’t have the mixing of boys and girls and this is completely new, which is amazing.”
And so far, the H.appi Campers seem to be anything but, well, h.appi (for now at least, the "h.appi" being aspirational rather than actual):
Camp supervisor Windemere Jarvis, the only counsellor who doesn’t speak Arabic, says she’s impressed by how eager the kids are to learn new customs. 
They’ve opened their hearts and bared their souls every day, she says, pointing to painful anecdotes about bombings, destroyed homes, and grief that can send her home “crying all night.” 
“I was talking to a friend of mine and they said, ‘You know what, I think the most important thing is when you hear these stories is not to cry because that is their reality. Just let them talk and let them know that what happened to them was okay and that they’re here now and we want them to be super happy here and feel like this is safe,“’ says Ms. Jarvis.
Ms. J. says that acclimating them to Canada and its unfamiliar customs is proving to be a bit of a challenge:
The athletic 21-year-old has taken a keen interest in boosting self-esteem among the girls, noting that a clear gender bias toward the boys “is very visible.” 
“The other day we lined them up and immediately all the boys went to the front of the line and the girls went behind them,” she notes. 
She worries about how the boys might be disciplined for such behaviour at a Toronto school unfamiliar with Syrian culture. 
“It’s not their fault,” she says, envisioning repeated trips to the principal’s office for something they don’t understand.
I know the perfect place for the lads--Valley Park Middle School.

But since the girls are now supposed to shed their cultural baggage and become strong and empowered females, perhaps they should find somewhere else to go:
Ms. Jarvis says she tries to introduce new ideas by showing them girls can do anything and by recognizing and praising female achievements. 
“I think that’s something they’re a little hesitant toward it but they’re not resistant,” she says. 
“And I think that they definitely – the girls especially – want to be empowered and they want to change. Because (after) coming here (to Canada), that’s what’s going to happen to them.”
Let's hope so. Then again, their menfolk--fathers, brothers and uncles--may have some strong opposition to the idea.

I know--maybe we should send them to summer camp.

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