Vishwa Hindu Parishad Summer Camp, an Experience to Remember

VHPA summer camp 2013.        Photo: Vijay Pallod

VHPA summer camp 2013. Photo: Vijay Pallod

By Suruchi Avasthi 

HOUSTON: A week after my time as a counselor at VHPA, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America’s summer camp, ended, I still find myself singing the bhajans that we sang every night. “Bolo bolo sab mil bolo, Om Namah Shivaya!” just keeps on repeating itself in my head. Waking up to do morning shaka, educating campers on how to apply practices of Hinduism into their everyday life, and doing aarti every night are just a few of the experiences that campers and counselors have at camp to both learn about, and practice their faith. Coming from a community where there were no other Hindu youth, VHP had given me the opportunity once before during my senior year of high school and now as a counselor, to not only learn about my religion, but to find a group of life long friends that share the same interest and desire to learn about their faith.

My experience as a camper had not only allowed me to learn about Hinduism, but also inspired me to learn more on my own and give back to the Hindu community. It was because of this desire to give back that I wanted to return to camp two years later to be a counselor.

Being at a point in my life where getting closer to my religion and learning more about it was important to me, deciding to be a counselor was an easy decision. Having the chance to grow within my religion as well as help impact the youth of our community was a learning experience in many ways. Whether it was practicing different yogasanas and activities during counselor meetings, researching and planning educations to teach, or reading the Mahabharata, my experience preparing to be counselor was a learning process on its own.

Every step the 42 person counselor team took to prepare for camp and the 170 campers that were on their way was well worth it when camp began and we could see how much our hard work had paid off. As cliché as it may sound, the past week of camp was one of the best I have had. It was getting to spend mornings with my campers doing exercises to just sitting down and getting to know each camper during meals that made camp special. Laughing together during skit night, enjoying the talents of campers during the talent show, having open discussions during education time, and even participating in water balloon fights during Holi — every event and activity at camp allowed everyone to feel closer and really become a family.

Being a counselor not only opened my eyes to so much about my Hindu faith, but also gave me the chance to be a leader and impact the campers in a positive way. That being said, one of the things counselors worry about is not having a big enough influence on our campers. One of my fellow counselors, Vidha Dixit, who I had met during my time as a camper and that I have been lucky enough to stay in touch with years later, said it best when she was telling me about her 2nd and 3rd grade campers. “I was concerned that my instructions on ‘The Importance of Bhajans’ didn’t make a large enough impact on my campers,” she said,  “however, I knew I had succeeded in my goal to influence my kids when they all spontaneously burst into bhajans during our last day together, forming a joyful circle as they sang ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ at the top of their lungs!” Knowing that we, as counselors, did have a positive effect on our campers makes the whole experience worth it.

Helping campers grow in their faith allows us as counselors to grow as well. Subhash Gubba, another counselor that I had met as a camper, shared the sentiment when I asked him about his experience in learning about Hinduism through being a counselor. “I’ve always been a strong believer in Hinduism,” he told me, “but being able to share my beliefs and help guide younger children in the same path has both tested my faith and strengthened my love for my religion”.  As counselors we are given the great opportunity to learn and grow as people and as Hindus. The same can be said for our campers. VHPA camp gives kids the chance to be with friends that help them learn and grow as Hindus. It’s an experience that simply can’t be replaced.

As a camper, I didn’t understand how much hard work and preparation was put into the camp in order to make it a great experience for everyone. Weekly counselor meetings were held throughout the summer in which we planned out games and activities for campers to play, different exercises and yoga poses, as well as many ways for us to be good leaders and role models for our campers. Not only that, but countless hours were put into making sure that educations were both engaging and informative for the campers so that they would not only learn about Hinduism during camp, but learn how they could take those lessons and apply them to their everyday lives at home. It wasn’t just us counselors putting camp together however. There were countless volunteers in the kitchen who cooked meals for everyone at camp, many donors who helped fund food and other items that were used in different activities and games, and many more people who had a hand in putting camp together and were involved in making the experience what it was.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the hard work and preparation done by our directors, Kavita Pallod and Sujata Amin. Both directors put in countless hours to make sure that everyone knew what they needed to do and that every aspect of camp was handled. The experience would not have been the same without them and for that they deserve the highest praise. A big thank you also goes out to all of my co-counselors and to the volunteers who made this camp possible. I learned so much about my faith and myself through the process of working with others and putting camp together. This was the 29th year that VHPA has put on camp and I cant wait to return to be a part of many, many more!