Hindu Heritage Youth Camp 2018

Group picture of HHYC 2018_INHOUSTON: Minutes ago, they were sitting in a quiet environment practicing yoga, but now, they are running around the room in a fierce game of tag with an Indian spin on it, called Kabbadi. It might seem like a normal, lazy Sunday in June, but the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp (HHYC) counselors gathered at Keshav Smruti are far from bumming around. This fast-paced, ever changing environment is a normal occurrence every Sunday as they come together to prepare to lead activities and games for camp. To fourth year counselor, Shamal Shah, the general atmosphere is “enthusiastic as we are getting ready for camp and evolving as counselors throughout the summer, all happy to be together to attend camp.”

Founded in 1984, HHYC has strived to teach children around greater Houston the positive impact Hinduism makes on one’s life through lessons, crafts, games, yoga, and a variety of other activities that can be implemented into daily life. All of these activities not only teach the children but connect them with other Hindus, together learning more about their culture. In recent years, the demand for camp has grown immensely, despite it splitting into two camps to increase its capacity. This year, registration for some grades filled up in a mere 15 minutes.

The five-day camp in Montgomery, Texas is jam-packed with various activities that appeal to all of our different campers. This year, Junior Camp, the camp for 3rd to 7th graders, is focusing on The Ramayana while Senior Camp, for campers in grades 8 through 12, are centered around The Mahabharata. Most activities at camp will be oriented around these overlying themes, as counselors prepare all summer to become well versed in each text. These college students and recent graduates who volunteer to be counselors are the heart of the camp. When asking Priya Patel, second year counselor, about what motivates her to keep counseling she said it “introduced me to a community of Hindus, taught me knowledge of Hinduism, and inspired me to want to know more. My goal is to have HHYC affect every camper the way it has for me.” “Counseling introduced me to a community of Hindus, taught me knowledge of Hinduism, and inspired me to want to know more,” second year counselor Priya Patel said. “My goal is to have HHYC affect every camper in a positive manner the way it has for me.”

Camp directors Vivek Shukla (left) and Namita Pallod.

Camp directors Vivek Shukla (left) and Namita Pallod.

The directors for HHYC this year are Vevek Shukla and Namita Pallod. Vevek Shukla is a Texas A&M graduate, and it is his first year directing, although he has been involved with camp for a few years now. His sister-in-law (former director Nikita Shukla) originally inspired him to volunteer as a counselor, which ignited a newfound passion for camp and Hinduism. “My main responsibility is to ensure that all counselors are trained and focused to give campers the best possible experience,” Shukla said.  “Our coordinators and counselors do a phenomenal job of preparing thorough education topics that teach campers about their Hindu religion and cultural identity.”

I’m very lucky for camp to have been such a pivotal experience in my life as I grew up, and even more blessed to be able to give back to the same camp by volunteering and helping formulate the best experience possible for our campers today,” second-year director and UT Austin graduate Namita Pallod said.

Along with the traditions of Sunday meetings and counselor game nights, counselors started a new tradition this year, by teaming up with Sewa International to volunteer in Rosharon, a Cambodian farming community destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. They spent the morning and afternoon helping to rebuild their homes and greenhouses. “It made me realize how much I take for granted and how a little help can go a long way for others in need,” second year counselor Sar.

At HHYC, the counselors work towards making the camper’s experience the best five days of summer. Attending weekly meetings and researching about Hinduism has been just a small part of preparation. “HHYC has taken the core value of Hinduism and made it so that our generation can relate to and understand the significance of this faith,” second year counselor Shreya Kulkarni said.  

Junior Camp will begin on July 31, and then Senior Camp will start on August 7. In the meantime, the 51 HHYC counselors will ramp up preparations for camp as they hope to help make the week at camp the best week of the year for all of their campers. In the future, HHYC hopes to have its own campsite so that is can expand its capacity.

For now, please reach out houstonhhyc@gmail.com to become involved by donating time or resources.

By Neha Afzalpurkar , Sophomore UT student , Middle school coordinator.