Dawn to Dusk: The Teachings of 2023 Hindu Heritage Youth Camp

Group picture of senior camp after garba.

By Krupa Rathi

HOUSTON: As the sun gently rises over Camp Young Judea, casting a warm golden glow on the verdant surroundings, a sense of excitement and anticipation fills the air. You can spot a basketball court filled with 240 campers and 60 counselors eager to perform Surya Namskar at the break of dawn. This is the start of another day at the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp, an immersive experience that has left an indelible mark on both the campers and the counselors, myself included.

Hindu Heritage Youth Camp is more than just a summer getaway; it’s a bridge connecting today’s youth to the timeless wisdom and cultural treasures of Hindu heritage. For many campers, this might be their first deep dive into the rich tapestry of Hindu philosophy, traditions, and practices.

Witnessing the awe in their eyes as they listen to ancient legends, participating in traditional ceremonies such as bhajans, and engaging in meaningful discussions about the philosophy and teachings behind Hinduism is a humbling experience. It’s as if they are rediscovering a lost part of themselves and connecting with their roots in a safe haven.

HHYC Camp Counselors group photo

The stories of gods and goddesses, the intricacies of rituals, and the significance of festivals come alive in ways that textbooks could never convey. Campers engage in discussions, educations, and arts and crafts that bring these concepts to life, fostering a genuine appreciation for the cultural legacy that has been passed down through generations.

Krupa Rathi teaching young campers

Each experience provides a lifetime of memories and passes down generations of practice. One of my personal favorite crafts at camp this year was lantern making! As the campers meticulously design and craft their lanterns, they find themselves delving into the rich symbolism and stories that Hinduism offers. The lanterns become more than just artistic creations; they become vessels of cultural expression, each stroke of color and design element telling a story from ancient myths and traditions. Through this hands-on experience, campers not only learn about the significance of light in Hindu festivals like Diwali but also feel a profound sense of participation in a tradition that has been cherished for centuries.

2023 HHYC camp t-shirt

Beyond cultural exploration, the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp is a crucible for character development and leadership, which especially happens as they spend more time with their peers encouraging each other to explore their Hindu identity. Each year all the campers are split into their education groups which always are named after influential figures, philosophies, or culturally relevant ideas in Hinduism. This year the theme was centered around spices! Each group worked together to form a community and ended up working together using slogans such as “Hing is King” or “Beleaf in yourself”(Kadi Patta). Through teamwork, collaborative projects, and interactive sessions, campers cultivate values such as respect, empathy, and perseverance. These values are not just spoken about; they are woven into the fabric of daily camp life.

Through these educations, campers are exposed to a wide range of engaging subjects and reflect the engaging spectrum of Hinduism. Education here is anything but ordinary, from stimulating discussions about the frequently overlooked Hindu Human Rights, which emphasize the importance of harmony and empathy among various beliefs, to delving into the profound nuances of fasting practices in Hinduism, where I learned the spiritual depth behind abstaining from food. These lessons have taken on a life of their own outside of the classroom, producing not only knowledge but also a compassionate worldview that resonates in our journeys as sympathetic, and globally aware humans.

Yet, the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp goes beyond the realm of structured learning, recognizing the invaluable role of friendship in shaping memorable experiences. Amidst the spirited learning sessions, the camp offers a breath of fresh air through its free recreation period. This time is a cherished opportunity for campers to not only engage in various sports and activities but also to escape the Texas heat (with record breaking temperatures this year!) through refreshing snacks, constant hydration, and time in the pool. Whether it’s a lively basketball match, a friendly game of tennis, or simply swinging in the hammocks trying to catch a cool breeze , the free rec period becomes a canvas where friendships are painted with shared memories.

One of the absolute best things I adore about camp is how it’s allowed me to meet some of my closest friends. In the shared space, sharing jokes and going through each day together with our peers it’s hard not to form these invaluable and precious friendships. The people you meet and friends you make truly make camp the “best 5 days of the year”.

The amazing friends I found at camp, the lessons I learned, and the strong bond I developed with my heritage are what inspired me to become a counselor. Those friendships were like the secret ingredients that made every camp day unforgettable, filling it with laughter and excitement. Understanding our culture, growing as a person, and realizing how we all fit together like puzzle pieces became my camp mantra. All these experiences combined made me want to step up and guide new campers on their own amazing journeys, just like I had.

After a day filled with education, bhajans, and the hot Texas sun, campers end the day with the stars twinkling above, casting a gentle radiance over the camp, a new chapter of understanding, empowerment, and unity unfolds within its participants. The impact of the camp extends well beyond its duration, shaping the trajectories of young lives in profound and lasting ways. The skills acquired, friendships forged, and the profound connection to their heritage become building blocks for a future illuminated by harmony and knowledge. The success and impact of  camp is intricately woven with the essential support of Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH), without which this enriching experience would not be possible.

The anticipation for next year is brimming with excitement as we eagerly await the opening of our very own campsite. The prospect of having a dedicated space for the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp opens up a world of possibilities. From tailor-made facilities to spaces that resonate with our camp’s values, the idea of holding camp at our own site is more than just thrilling—it’s a chance to create an even more immersive and impactful experience for campers. We have our fingers crossed that the campsite is ready for the 40th year of camp!

Visit hinducamp.net for further details.

Krupa Rathi is a first-time counselor, who has been to camp numerous times before as a camper. She is currently a freshman at UT Austin majoring in Biology