For All Families Touched by Ethiopian Heritage
For most Ethiopian families, nothing will replace the experience of a visit back home; however, short of a visit back home, the Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp means the opportunity to connect with their heritage in a significant, positive, and fun way. For children such as Nati, Betty, and Bilen this camp means the opportunity to connect with their heritage that is cherished by their Ethiopian parents. For kids like Mati Glynn and Masene and Safiya Stimely, summer also means a joyous reunion for these friends from Ethiopia who came to the US through adoption. For all the families attending and raising Ethiopian-American children, this summer means gathering to celebrate Ethiopian culture at the Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp. For returning families, this annual event has become a reunion and a chance to renew lifelong bonds of friendship.
The camp is the brainchild of Mekdes Bekele, who came to the US 23 years ago. Mekdes, as the owner of AbshiroKids, and a mom, has long been committed to offering language resources to connect children of the Ethiopian Diaspora with their heritage. Starting the camp was a natural extension of that commitment. “I truly believe language is the key for keeping our kids connected to their culture, therefore, language classes will always be a key component of our camp experience.”
The 4-day camp will be held July 22-July 25 at the Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center in Harrisonburg, VA, a beautiful setting nestled on 200 acres of woodlands and meadows in the Shenandoah mountains, just a short two-hour drive from Washington DC. The camp welcomed over 200 children and adults in 2009 from as far away as Florida, Ohio and Kansas. This year, families from up and down the East Coast, from as far away as Massachusetts and Florida, have already registered to take part. This year’s number has already exceeded last year’s attendance with still two month left to register; the attendance is expected to easily top 250 in 2010.
The event is a unique venue which unites all families raising Ethiopian-American children. The goal of the camp is simple: To help Ethiopian children develop pride in themselves, as well as their heritage and become assets to their community. Activities range from classes in Amharic and Ethiopian history and etiquette, to Ethiopian dance workshops, music and movies. There is plenty of time for fun, as well, games and activities such as canoeing, swimming and volleyball.
The camp is not just for children, however. It also brings Ethiopian parents and adoptive parent together for the common goal of raising self-assured and well-adjusted Ethiopian Americans. For Elizabeth Glynn, mother of 8-year old Mati Glynn, the camp is a vital link to Mati’s heritage and friends. “We chose to adopt from Ethiopia in part because we are fascinated by the many cultures that exist in the country. My husband and I are committed to keeping Mati connected to her Ethiopian friends and to helping her develop knowledge, love and pride for her homeland.”
For Ethiopian mom Hirut of Virginia, it was a chance to take a mini vacation close to home. “My kids and I had a great time last year at the Camp. It was a wonderful long weekend and that gave us a chance to spend time together while enjoying all the fun activities offered. My kids were immersed in Ethiopian Culture with their peers for the entire weekend without having to travel back home. As a busy working mom, this was a nice purposeful vacation close to DC and we are looking forward to going back again this year”
While children are learning about their heritage through classes, songs, and games, adults can participate in workshops with topics ranging from how to raise culturally-aware first generation Ethiopian-Americans; the challenges and the opportunities of growing up in America, hearing directly from young Ethiopian adults; travel to Ethiopia; Ethiopian etiquette …etc. In addition to these educational activities, other fun activities such as traditional coffee ceremony, hair braiding, and much more will be offered.
The large Ethiopian community in the Washington DC area has embraced the camp. Many Ethiopian merchants will set up their wares in the camp’s Mercato, where participants can purchase clothing, books, spices, coffee, music CD’s, and Ethiopian souvenirs.
The highlight of the camp for children and adults is a traditional Ethiopian banquet complete with traditional food and dance – in other words this will be a serious “diggis”! The entertainment will be provided by professionals doing traditional Ethiopian music and dance.
For Mekdes and her group of volunteer organizers, the camp is a labor of love. “Parents last year thanked us for making a difference in their children’s lives. That was all the encouragement we needed to continue our commitment to this camp. Ultimately, it is about our children. Seeing the kids having fun, learning, enjoying and being themselves, is reward unto itself!!”
For more information about the camp or to register, go to www.heritageandculturecamp.org.