Heritage camps for adoptive families
“There’s lots of brown people here!” exclaimed a 5-year-old Ethiopian girl upon arrival at E Camp last summer, an Ethopian heritage and culture camp. And as the weekend came to a close and everyone was leaving for home, that same the little girl told me, “I wish I could stay here forever.”
As the mother of an Ethiopian-born son, I am acutely aware that he is part of a small minority in Victoria, both racially and culturally. Since his father and I do not share his race nor his culture-of-origin, it is very obvious that we cannot, on our own, teach our son to be confident in his identity and proud of his heritage. We need a “village” to help us raise our son, a village that includes people who know what it means to be Ethiopian.
To my surprise, an Ethiopian friend of mine recently expressed similar sentiments. Two of her children were born in Canada and have never been to Ethiopia. So she is faced with the challenge of teaching them to be proud of their Ethiopian heritage in a place where most of their classmates have never even heard of injera or coffee ceremonies. This is why E Camp is such a significant event for families with Ethiopian children.
What is culture?
Although there is no standard definition of culture, it is commonly defined as a system of shared beliefs, customs, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.
University of Manitoba - Dept of Anthropology
While there are numerous family camps for adoptive families, there are few heritage camps that serve adoptive and immigrant families alike. E Camp was created in 2009 to be an annual 3-day family camp focused on celebrating Ethiopian culture. The highlight of the weekend is the Ethiopian feast held on the Saturday night. Everyone dresses in traditional clothes, and families gather in small groups around platters piled with injera and many varieties of wat. The meal is followed by a coffee ceremony, where green coffee beans are roasted slowly over charcoals, filling the air with the aroma of Ethiopia.
After the adults have each had a cup or two of “buna”, the dancing begins. One of my favorite memories from last year’s camp is of watching a 7-year-old girl dancing while a group of Ethiopian women danced in a circle around her. E Camp was the first time she was part of an Ethiopian community since arriving in Canada two months ago with her new adoptive parents. She remembered all of the differnt dances flawlessly, and the women around her praised her affectionately in Amharic. I imagine she was relieved to discover that she could still be Ethiopian in this strange new place.
A large portion of the weekend consists of unstructured beach time. At first glance, the scene is a typical one: babies and toddlers are playing in the sand, a group of 5-year-old girls hold hands as they run into the lake together, middleschool boys are chasing each other with water guns, a noisy game of beach volleyball is underway, a family is canoeing on the lake, a grandmother is relaxing in the shade. What is less typical, at least on a Vancouver Island lakeside, is that the people with Ethiopian heritage form the majority in this group. Of course, attending a 3-day camp once a year will not in itself make my son proud to be Ethiopian-Canadian. What E Camp provides for my family is a fun opportunity to meet other families with an interest in incorporating Ethiopian culture into their lives and to make happy memories with old and new friends who share my son’s rich and fascinating heritage.