Saturday 7 July 2012

Not Just Another Summer Camp: A Brief Reflection on Camp Ekon

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

Summer camps for the young come in different shapes and forms; some involve more outdoor activities, whereas others are what one would call “Bible camps”. Since the last week of June, I have found myself in a summer camp that is quite different from the generic labels that I just mentioned. It is a Jesuit-run camp near the Muskoka area in Ontario, Canada, named Camp Ekon.

The idea behind Camp Ekon is to train young people in Christian leadership, so that they are able to both organize and operate the camp that is filled with outdoor activities. To top it off, there are daily masses at the camp. One can rightly ask, how is this different from any other “leadership camp”? I would say that Camp Ekon’s way of teaching leadership skills is not theoretical but rather practical. It is not going through a binder full of materials with the young people and voilà, out comes a youth leader whose understanding of leadership is all in the head. It is also not merely technical: one could learn to give instructions for outdoor activities or plan camp programs as if it were just a job, without realizing how one could grow as a person through the process.

In my humble opinion, leadership is shown through one's being, and it is shown by how the senior staff and youth counsellors are with the campers. Here, I would like to discuss one aspect of such leadership that I have observed at Ekon: that of availability. By availability, I mean that we – as staff and counsellors – make ourselves available to the campers. One may rightly ask: why would availability be considered a sign of leadership? I think it demonstrates an openness to offer oneself to others who are in need. Such leadership is shown by taking the extra mile when we don't have to. It is similar to what we Jesuits call the Magis, a Latin word that translates into “the more” in English. On the flip side of the coin, it is very easy to have the mentality of compartmentalizing our time so that from this to that hour I give to the campers, but from that hour on I am off-limits.

So, what were the signs of availability that I have picked up in my eleven days at Ekon so far? It was the counsellor who decided to get up in the early morn to play card games with a young camper because the latter was emotionally upset. It was the senior staff who stayed up until the wee hours of the morning while painstakingly checking for lice in the hair of campers. It was the task of driving campers home – an 8-hour trip in total – due to their health issues; to explain to their parents the difficult situation while being in solidarity with the disappointment of the young campers. It was those who stopped by the children with special needs and hung out with them during their free time.

In other words, such availability is a kind of self-giving to others; it is an action that brings us together toward the Beautiful, Good and True. It is leading through loving. As St. Ignatius says in the Spiritual Exercises, love is better expressed in actions than in words. This is not to say that Camp Ekon is a Christian Utopia, but by God's Grace, it fosters the growth of the young counsellors and staff through the way of a self-giving love, and this is something that one should desire to see in our leaders of tomorrow.

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