BY ANAHEED SARIAN
A few short months ago a friend mentioned AYF Summer Camp to me in conversation. It wasn’t the first time I had heard about it, being a part of North Sydney’s Nigol Touman chapter, we always dream of the Western US camp experience. However, this was definitely the first time I genuinely saw myself participating and thus a few months later I found myself applying for a counsellor position online. Upon seeing the photos of the camp site and researching the various activities the campers can take part it, I was truly amazed. I wondered to myself how real the online version of camp was. I’m pleased to admit that by the end of the week there was even more to be amazed by than what I initially expected.
After successfully being accepted as a counsellor for Week D, I spent time mentally preparing for what I was about to experience. Part of me tried to rationalise the difference between the Youth Corps Program in Armenia and AYF Summer Camp. Many fellow Ungers at home told me that if you can do Youth Corps you can do anything. And sure, this is true, but I can definitely say that Summer Camp is its own great challenge for which nothing will prepare you, especially if you are an international attendee! I strongly believe that summer camp is an experience all global AYF members can benefit from and should participate in.
What I loved most about my camp experience was the immersive aspect of it, how you could be woken in the middle of the night by a homesick child, or to accompany a camper to the restroom. The fact that you are 100% involved and for an entire seven days that commitment does not cease. As someone who enjoys large amounts of time in introversion, I found this my greatest challenge but one that changed me for the better. Playing full-time mum to 130 children for a week is something I’ll never forget, nor would I think to trade it for any European Contiki tour.
Another great thing about my camp experience was being a representative of my local AYF chapter and Armenian community. I was able share so much about my local federation with my fellow counsellors, and at the same time I received tonnes of valuable information for my own AYF camps at home. It is exciting to think that I can begin implementing these ideas and improvements to our existing model. Aside from all this, the idea that I had to rely on myself for that entire week, knowing that there was no one familiar to talk things over with or hide behind like in previous camp situations, that in itself was monumental. I feel strongly that my personal growth as Ungerouhi at this camp will help me to achieve much more than I expect of myself in the future, and I am truly humbled by that.
When it comes to the campers, I could tell stories about them forever. I think sometimes as you grow older you can forget what it was like to be a child, the imagination and the wonder that comes with being young. Camp definitely takes you back to that feeling in ways you don’t expect. For me, the Macaroni Carnival, the talent shows, all of those fantastic moments where the campers get to show each other how gifted they are, those are the times that I play on repeat in my memory now that I’m home. I think those moments are invaluable and helped remind me how much potential there is in tomorrow’s youth. To think that I play a part in that, offering my knowledge and using my skillset to train them for their future as a community leader, that’s what motivates me.
Infinitely rewarding is the fact that you get to work with such a great team. Starting from the amazing directors, people who only get a few weeks of vacation from their work per year and choose to spend it being a camp mum or dad. I can’t say I know a lot of grown-ups with families who would do that! Also, the assurance of having medical professionals on site. As much as you’d think nothing bad can happen and that any adult can solve a small problem, the difference between getting fact-based remedies and instant cures for just about anything is phenomenal. I know that if I were a camp parent one day I would feel extremely grateful and contented knowing that my children were in such capable hands. In Week D I was lucky enough to work with 4 Directors, 1 General Practitioner, 1 Nurse and last but certainly not least, 22 warm and welcoming Co-Counsellors.
I can honestly admit that summer camp counsellors are some of the most hard-working members in the world. That’s a huge statement but I don’t doubt it. There were so many opportunities for us to slack off, to think it’s not necessary to give our all, to make careless mistakes, and yet that never happened once. I saw so much passion, hunger, drive and commitment from my co-counsellors, that it genuinely moved me to tears at times. At no point that week did I feel as though any one was better than the other, everyone stayed true to their role in the team-work aspect and no matter what we were faced with, each night we would resolve our concerns one by one and set the tone for another great day ahead. And to top all of that dedication and hard-work off, we had an absolute blast together. I love that we all had individual strengths which added value and intrigue to the camper’s experience. Even though we all came from different walks of life, we understood each other just the same. I would say that this is the AYF’s greatest triumph, that it brings young Armenians of all backgrounds together in a way that makes us feel connected to one another, no matter the distance. I have been blessed by the opportunity of making new friends overseas from my previous involvement in the Youth Corps program, but this week was no exception. I look forward to a time where I can reconnect with my new friends and fellow counsellors, each one made a unique impression on me and taught me so much.
If you are considering becoming a counsellor for the first time I would strongly encourage and implore you to apply. Sometimes the things you are least prepared for lead you to discover you are more than you ever imagined you could be. Thank you to the AYF Summer Camp organisers for giving me this huge opportunity and I cannot wait to be a part of this wonderful program again.