Hindu Heritage Youth Camp

camp - in

By  Resham Hemlani

HOUSTON: Being born and raised on the remote island of Guam, my resources, when it came to my Hindu culture, were limited. We had weekly mandir prayers sprinkled with religious and cultural events every now and again, but for the most part there was no set institution that taught me of my Hindu heritage. Instead, it was dependent upon the parents in the Indian community and their willingness to educate future generations. Occasionally, a family friend of the community would make a trip from off-island and carve out some time to teach us children slokas, bhajans, and even mantras; however, moments like those were short-lived.

When I moved to Houston for college in 2010, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp. For those who don’t know, for the past thirty years, VHP has held this annual camp and invited kids from ages 7 to 17 to join in on a wide variety of fun, Hindu activities. During this six-day camp, the children are given educations on various topics that relate to Hinduism, while also participating in cultural activities like Holi and Garba. In the past, the HHYC would be held for one week but this year was extremely exceptional as camp was split into two weeks. The first week, held from August 5-11, was focused on high school students; while the second camp, held from August 12-18, was dedicated to the elementary and middle school children. With two camps, the counselors were able to spend more time with the kids and provide each and every child with the attention and time that they deserved.

Veli Shah, a veteran counselor, explains, “Although we, as counselors, teach educations, [the kids] never fail to make their curiosity known. Through heated discussions, I get to facilitate true learning, as they are always eager to have their opinions and observations heard and debated. In the end, not only do I get to teach them, but they teach me, and I love that.”

This year’s camp would not have been possible without the dedication and tireless efforts done by our directors: Bharat Pallod and Sagar Patel. With their help, along with the dedicated counselors and devoted volunteers, this year’s camp experience was one of the best.  This immersive experience allows the children to not only gain a better understanding of their culture but also find a balance between the Hindu heritage they’re born with and the American culture they are brought up with. When asked what the goals of camp were, Bharat Pallod said it best, “Our goal isn’t to teach campers the book, we know that 6 days is too little time for even one topic in Hinduism. Our goal is to inspire them, to show them how vast and beautiful their religion  is, and hope, when they go home, they open a book themselves.” Co-Director Sagar Patel adds, “One of the most fulfilling and rewarding parts of camp is watching the growth in our campers every summer and seeing how eager they are to come back as counselors to help make an impact on future generations.”

The objectives of a Hindu youth camp are simple: educate the children about our Hindu morals and values in a fun, learning environment. Here at camp, the kids are given the opportunity to create relationships with other people that share their culture and understand the obstacles that come with being brought up with two identities. Thanks to camp, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to create a home away from home. It’s been a privilege, to say the least, to be a part of the VHP community and help give back by influencing and shaping the minds of future generations. It’s been two years since I’ve been a part of the HHYC family and HHYC has made such a profound impact in my life, to the point where I could not imagine not being a part of this enlightening, educational and dynamic experience.

Resham Hemlani has been a part of HHYC for two years. She is currently a senior on the Pre-Dental track pursing a B.S. Degree in Anthropology at the University of Houston.