A big thank-you to our amazing “parliamentarian team” for making this year’s “Camp Phoenix” a reality! I was given a writing assignment to reflect on an event in this past summer and decided to write a short essay on the incredible time spent with our campers…
Bathed by the first glowing rays of the late August sunset, I waited impatiently in the softening darkness, staring at a red ribbon of flashing tail-lights on Highway 99. Sheldon, the eleven-year-old boy I had just picked up from Burnaby, was gazing out his passenger-side window, his innocently beaming face reflected on the windshield before me. This was Sheldon’s first sleep-away camping experience, and the interminable traffic jam did not seem to dampen his spirits.
With random radio tunes playing faintly in the background, my mind began to drift. I remembered reading Sheldon’s camp application. He was one of a great many youths who had applied to participate in our fundraiser subsidized four-day summer camp. Representing Vancouver’s Point Grey district within the British Columbia Youth Parliament, I was working as one of the volunteer staff members of BCYP’s largest outreach service project, “Camp Phoenix.” Aftera ninety-minute ferry ride and another hour’s drive, Sheldon and I finally arrived at Camp Barnard–the site for this year’s BCYP camp–in the remote area of Sooke, on B.C.’s Vancouver Island.
We pulled into camp shortly after the lighting of the bonfire. Thirty kids immediately swarmed my car to boisterously welcome the late-comers. Dark had descended and above us shone an extraordinarily beautiful starry sky. Soon we had all gathered around the bonfire: all of the camp kids and eleven more staff members–friends I had met during the 88th BCYP parliamentary session. Our parliamentarian team had spent over 6 months raising funds in communities, selecting applicants and getting to know their families, addressing parents’ concerns, coordinating accommodation and transportation, and generally trying our best to help at both organizational and personal levels.
Standing around the bonfire with our campers, seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter, I felt a deep connection with these kids. Having read all the applications, I had been engaged by the stories behind each one of our camp participants. All of these kids’ families shared similar financial and social hardships, and I was sure that each one of them merited a fun and educative camping experience. It was a great privilege to be there at the camp and to see our past six months’ efforts coming to fruition. Interacting with these kids and working to give them the time of their lives was incredible.
Volunteering with “Camp Phoenix” helped me gain some real-life, emotionally-attached understanding of needs-based issues in the lives of underprivileged youth. This personally invested understanding of realities playing out directly in front of my tent was very different from the type of understanding elicited by news stories or textbook case studies. My four days camping with the kids was an eye-opening experience that broadened my perspective on social and economic mechanisms that often place undue hardships upon families. At BCYP we recognize that our efforts constitute a drop in the bucket, yet as long as our motto “youth serving youth” is being fulfilled, we believe that Camp Phoenix will continue to bring glowing rays of hope to struggling families.