This summer, for the fifth year running, Caritas Westminster has supported Syria Summer Camp, an educational, fun and therapeutic event for children from refugee backgrounds hosted by Newman Catholic College.
Camp veteran Moussa, aged 14, recalls its beginnings:
‘Syria Summer Camp was first started in 2016 by Amanda Wooster as a summer activity for refugees who came from places such as Syria and Afghanistan. When it first started it only had a small number of students, but over the years it grew with more people. To some people it is an annual event which they go to each year, and to others it has introduced them to Newman Catholic College, and by the words of Amanda Wooster (the founder of Syria Summer Camp) “for some it has become a sanctuary for them.”’
This year’s Camp, which lasted three weeks, was attended by over 60 participants aged 4-15, plus a few older teenagers who had only recently arrived in this country.
In addition to activities at Newman there were outings to the cinema and an aqua park – the first time many of the children had experienced either. The Camp was co-ordinated by Anjali Saran (Amanda’s successor as Newman’s Refugee Project Leader), with several parents among the volunteers who ensured everything ran as smoothly and safely as possible.
All the children come from refugee families: while some were born in the UK, others have vivid memories of the traumas of war, escape, displacement and living in refugee camps. Even as families settle, they still live with loss, insecurity and anxiety, for themselves and for loved ones left behind. For this reason, many of the Camp’s activities have a therapeutic element, enabling the children to explore and express their emotions through art, drama or song-making, while the presence of trained counsellors, able to work one-to-one with some of the children, has been an essential part of each Summer Camp.
Sr Silvana Dallanegra, our West London Development Worker, supported and visited the Camp, as she has done every year, meeting parents and volunteers she has come to know well over the years, and children she has watched growing up. A lovely part of Syria Summer Camp is the great welcome and family atmosphere, with dozens of excited children, fun, vibrancy, courtesy and – always – a delicious Syrian-Afghan fusion meal.
Several of this ‘extended family’ agreed to tell us what they thought of this year’s event:
“This year was spectacular Miss Anjali was a incredible host and my favourite part was the trip to the aqua park” (Ilyas, Age 12 )
“The camp was very good, l really enjoyed the swimming. Anjali is a star. The camp brought me a lot of happiness (Afaf, Support Staff and Mum )
“What I liked about Syria Summer Camp is that people were being kind and helpful to each other, I really enjoyed my new teacher Miss Bee because she was kind to me and I was good and listened to her. Thank you for planning all the trips and things, you are the best teacher ever!” (Mahmoud, Age 9)
“We have a good time during the camp we improve our English and our skills, have friends as well” (Taymaa and Maria, Volunteer, Mum and daughter Age 5)
“It was the best camp ever. I really liked miss Maggie who helped me out in every activity and made sure everyone had fun. I was really interested and had great fun in the psychology workshop as well.
Thanks once again to miss Anjali who arranged this” (Ruhma, 15)
“I enjoy everything but I liked bicycle riding the most” (Ayesha, Age 8)
“I like painting and play with kids” (Hajra, Age 5)
“It is really unique and diverse as it looks into each child’s needs and abilities and makes sure they are being listened and heard by the camp – 5 star rating” (Nargiza, Volunteer and Mum)
Read more about the commitment to social action by schools in the Westminster Diocese here: Celebrating Schools – an end of term report
Read about another project awarded a grant from Caritas Westminster’s St John Southworth Fund: Caritas Grants – essential funds for projects and individuals during lockdown