Kids’ camp mingles faith and friendship

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If children are the future, then the future looks pretty accepting based on those at a local Inter-Faith Peace Camp at King’s University College.

About 90 elementary and secondary school-age campers, leaders and volunteers are taking part in the camp this week where they will learn about Christianity, Judaism and Islam and visit a church, synagogue and mosque.

Last year, the camp was awarded the diversity, race relations and inclusivity award by the city of London.

“They’ve developed a curiosity and openness to other religions which is a joy to me” said Pastor Charleen Jongejan Harder, one of the organizers of the camp from Valleyview Mennonite Church.

Jongejan Harder said many of the campers return yearly and she sees their curiosity and openness grow each year.

“My son has been part of this camp for three years and it’s been interesting watching him develop,” Jongejan Harder said. “His first response when meeting someone of a different faith is curiosity.”

On Wednesday, the campers learned about Islam and had a chance to visit the London Muslim Mosque. Shahin Pardhan, a faith leader at the camp, spent the morning explaining Islamic practices to the group.

She talked about halal foods, where Mecca is, and how Muslims pray. The children, full of questions, asked away. Many of them drew similarities between their religion and Islam.

Pardhan, who is a Shia Muslim, said even the Sunni Muslims are learning about the differences between the two Muslim practices.

“It’s just a great way for the kids to experience things they didn’t know,” Pardhan said.

The week-long camp is based on a model that was developed at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Five years ago, the camp leaders in London decided they had formed the proper relationships with each other in the community to do something similar here as well.

The goal is to encourage friendship-building among different faith groups and to create a culture where people can be curious and ask questions.

Outside of religion, the campers also learn about group work, different cultures and languages, and have time to play outside — which many of them said they enjoy the most.

“I really like camp,” said Dana Al-hajsalem, 6. “The best part is making friends, playing outside and having fun.” 

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