British Columbia

Friendship begins on the playground at Vancouver camp for refugee kids

The founders of a Vancouver summer day camp for refugee children are hoping that the key to feeling comfortably Canadian can be found on the playground.

Children at East Vancouver Newcomer Camp learn English and practice playing sports and other games

Refugee children learn playground games at East Vancouver Newcomer Camp. (East Vancouver Newcomer Camp)

The founders of a Vancouver summer day camp for refugee children are hoping that the key to feeling comfortably Canadian can be found on the playground.

East Vancouver Newcomer Camp is the brainchild of two UBC students, Duncan Bernardo and Dakota Koch. Now in its second summer, the camp has expanded to include a Surrey location.

The inspiration, according to Bernardo, was the year he spent living in Spain as a child.

"The way I was really able to make friends was during recess, because I knew how to play soccer. So even though I couldn't communicate with the children, I was able to join in on their games," he said.

Duncan Bernardo teaches basketball skills to refugee children at East Vancouver Newcomer Camp. (East Vancouver Newcomer Camp)

At camp, the children practice their English in the morning and learn sports and games in the afternoon. Everything from baseball to freeze tag is on the agenda.

"They're really excited to learn English," Bernardo said. "A lot of them even ask at times for homework, because they want to learn."

The instructors try to take their lead from the children, and focus on the games and language skills the youngsters want to learn, according to Haytham Al Hamaydah, the camp's recruitment director.

"It's really a good chance for you to experience patience," he said.

"Working with kids can be really tough, especially when they come from a place where it's a bit messy and you're trying to teach them some rules and play some games that they haven't tried before. It's a difficult process, but we're getting there."

The camp is entirely free, and the children receive Halal meals and transit passes.

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