Celebrating 25 years of Harambee Cultural Society


Allie Davison, with the Harambee Cultural Society
Focus on Adoption magazine

The purpose of the Harambee Cultural Society is to celebrate the value of transracial families and mitigate the challenges faced by transracially adopted children. In 2020 Harambee will celebrate their 25th anniversary, so we touched base with them to find out how Harambee has grown and changed over the last quarter-century. All photos courtesy the Harambee Cultural Society, by jenniferarmstrongphotography.com

Can you tell us a little bit about Harambee’s origins and what you do now? 

2019 Harambee Group Photo

The 2020 camp will be very special as it’s our 25th anniversary. We expect over 400 campers and we are planning some special celebrations. It is amazing to think that in 1996 it all started with just two families and 25 people on a summer camping trip.

The growth of the festival is due to the need that families parenting children of African heritage, through adoption or birth, have for cultural activities and transracial adoption education. These are both strongly featured in our programming. We have recognized therapists and thought leaders in attendance who deliver parenting seminars and presentations dealing with important adoption and race-related subjects. We have sessions for adults and teens, as well as teen-led sessions for tweens. We have a strong African heritage focus and schedule activities such as drumming, music, arts, and storytelling. Our youth mentor program is an important part of the programming and we have separate activities for teens that speak to our goal of helping our Black teenagers successfully navigate the world.

How can people get involved with Harambee?

The 2020 camp runs from June 27 to July 4 and takes place at Sorrento Centre, in the Shuswap town of Sorrento, BC. Registration for the camp will take place in March 2020 via our website. There are a range of accommodation options ranging from simple campsites, where you bring your tent, to powered RV sites, and lodge rooms with an option to have meals provided. New families are most welcome to camp and the best way to find our information
and to get a feel for the experience is to visit our website harambee.ca.

Children dancing

Volunteers are a huge part of the success of the camp and we encourage adults to help with activities and tasks while at the event. The Harambee Cultural Society is a registered charity and a non-profit organization. Fundraising is a significant contributor to our budget and allows us to offer such a high level of programming to families for an affordable cost each year. We issue tax receipts for all eligible donations. You may find information on making contributions at the website.

What’s one of your challenges?

The Harambee Summer Festival is the only cultural conference and camp of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Camp attendance has grown substantially over the years as it has a range of activities and programming. The planning committee’s main goal is to provide a camp with a positive and enriching experience while being conscious of the cost to the campers themselves. The professionals that come to camp to deliver seminars and run activities are of a very high standard. Often, they are shuffling their summer vacations and downtime so they can come to Harambee. So, it is an ongoing balance to make sure that we have the budget to be able to attract these people while keeping the event as financially accessible as possible.

We are fortunate that we have a committed volunteer Board of Directors that work year-round to plan for camp, and we want to mention our volunteers here as well! Without their help, we would need paid help, which would leave less in the budget for programming.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being part of Harambee?Children playing soccer

Transracial adoptive families are certainly in the minority, and in Western Canada, the Black community is very small. When parents, and their children of African heritage, arrive at camp for the first time they often feel overwhelmed by a feeling of acceptance and belonging.

For children to be able to talk, play, and just hang out with kids who look like them and have a similar family composition is incredibly valuable and, unfortunately, rare. Many lifelong friendships are made at Harambee. We have families attending from BC, Alberta, and Washington State. Kids look forward to seeing friends at camp each year. For parents, it is the chance to be in an environment where all families have similarities in composition and background.

What changes do you hope to see in the future?

The Harambee Cultural Society has worked diligently for the past five years to focus on what our campers need most. We use feedback from an annual survey, as well as lots of discussions during camp. Our main themes are to ensure we focus on youth and provide them with strong mentors, and then build them into mentorship roles.

We believe the core of our success is that we always have a place for our families. We see them coming back as young adults to help with programming and even bringing the next generation with them as new campers. That sense of belonging and love is created throughout the year as we work to provide outreach for our families.

This coming year, we have families travelling on a cultural trip to Washington, DC, and we always have smaller gatherings throughout the year. We hope to continue to build on our success with leaders from within our communities and to create leaders who will be there for generations to come.

Our programs provide lots of summer fun but are also educational and offer support that is in-depth and prepares all ages for the world we live in. There is always so much to celebrate with our cultural programming, from an on-site barbershop and hair salon, to dancing and drumming, and workshops that help kids develop and celebrate a strong Black identity.

Children drumming Do you have a favourite story to share?

There are so many favourite stories to share from over the years but two that come to mind right away.

The first surrounds the rich African-based programming that we have and centres on drumming.

Drumming has been an ongoing and important part of the camp. Fana Soros, a musician from Cote d’Ivoire, attended camp for many years. He taught djembe and other African drums to campers in a communal drum circle. The circle often had 20 children in it and, sometimes, well over 50 parents would join in. The children always had big smiles on their faces as they felt Fana’s excitement and followed his direction. We all heard the beautiful sounds coming from all the drums together in the circle. Parents talked about the experience throughout the day and the following morning the kids would all be running towards Fana and the drums for another hour of magic.

The second powerful story is about seeing our program mentors running many of the events and gatherings for the little children. These range from soccer camps, to hair sessions, to an Amazing Race and Sports Day. Not long ago these mentors were the little children being cared for and encouraged by teens at camp. It is so moving to see these kids grow up and put so much back into camp and the experiences for today’s youth. Harambee was an important, and fun place, for them to come as kids and now they are choosing to leave their jobs and responsibilities to come back for camp week to see their peers and to help the adults and volunteers put on all the fun activities that happen day after day for the entire week of camp.

What does family mean to you?

To us, family is a gathering of adults and children in one unit for support, growth, development, and fun!

For some of us, our children came to us from another country, culture, or even language. So, family is bigger than all of that combined. Family is being there for each other no matter what. It’s sitting around the kitchen table and discussing how each person’s day was, what challenges are we each facing and what input can we offer each other when someone needs a little extra help and guidance.

Children on waterslideFamily is being there for the little milestones, such as a child’s first soccer game and goal, their first day of school, their first A, B, or C on a test or homework assignment. Family is being there for graduation and helping our children sort where they want to go to post-secondary school and who they want to become. It’s being there for all the amazing celebrations in life, but also for every single tough day along the ride, it’s staying up late at night helping them through a tough time, or just listening as they work through something, while giving advice if and when needed.

Find out more about Harambee on their website: harambee.ca