Syrian refugees and Muslim teens get 1st taste of summer camp

Muslim youth, many of whom are new to Calgary, are getting their first taste of one of Canada's favourite summer pastimes: camp.

Kids tackle ziplining, wall-climbing and ropes courses between Halal meals and daily prayers

More than 30 Muslim kids are spending the week at Camp Kindle near Water Valley. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Syrian refugees and underprivileged Muslim youth are getting their first introduction to one of Canada's favourite summer pastimes: camp.

It's four days and three nights of team-building, problem-solving and outdoor activity meant to teach the kids survival skills and self-confidence, as well as help them integrate into Canadian culture.

The children, many of whom are new to Calgary, are attending Camp Kindle for free, through sponsorship by the Muslim Families Network Society.

"Camping is a Canadian culture, a Canadian custom," said MFNS board member and camp volunteer Khaled Chaabani. 

"It's a good way to help them to learn how to live the Canadian way in a healthy environment."

Camp activities include archery, wall-climbing, ropes courses, a zipline, arts and crafts and hiking. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Between tackling the climbing walls, zipline, ropes courses, archery and water sports, the kids are fed Halal meals and observe all five daily prayer times.

Chaabani said he was encouraged to see kids from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and other countries playing together and talking about their difficult past experiences.

"I was happy that they were able to open up, and that they felt this was a good environment, a safe environment," he said.

Khaled Chaabani is one of the five volunteers from the Muslim Family Network Society who is supervising the activities at Camp Kindle this week. (James Young/CBC)

Chaabani said language and cultural integration remain the two biggest challenges facing the newcomers, but he's optimistic they'll make a smooth transition.

"They are sharp kids. They went through a lot, and when you go through that struggling, you gain some skills that you don't gain when you think you're comfortable."

Mohamad al Said starts grade 10 this year and agreed that learning English has been tough, but he said he likes it here.

"I like Canada. You know why? Because people in Canada are very nice, respectful," al Said said.

The $350 camp fee was waived for Syrian refugee families and underprivileged youth thanks to bursaries and sponsorships coordinated by the Muslim Families Network Society. (James Young/CBC)

​Tech-free camp

The camp has a strict ban on cellphones, cameras, computers and video games, which gives the kids ample time to get to know each other, said camp coordinator Wes Aitken.

"A lot of times, kids these days, they're so plugged in. They are so glued to their screens and stuff like that. We are one of the last places without cellphone reception, and we sell that," Aitken said.

"They get to get back to what's important, getting into nature with people and connecting at a real level."

Nasrin Ali, a camper originally from Sudan, said she's already made some friends at camp. 

"It's nice that there's no technology or anything. That gives us the opportunity to talk to each other," Ali said.

"It's been fun making new friends."

With files from Dave Gilson