Meaningful Fun at Tzu Chi Summer Camp in Long Island

November 3, 2022
Students enjoy the vegetarian seaweed rolls they make at Tzu Chi summer camp on Long Island, which resumed activities in 2021 after a year-long interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo/Huiyi Qin

Written by Huiyi Qin
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

For many students, the summer of 2021 was the first opportunity after a whole year to participate in summer camps offered by Tzu Chi and engage in various enjoyable and meaningful activities together. The summer camps got the students out of the classrooms, where they could build collaborative team spirit through games and other means while learning valuable leadership skills.

Long Island’s Summer Camp Comes Alive Once Again

August 2021 marked ten years since Tzu Chi held its first summer camp on Long Island in New York in 2011, the tradition continuing with only one summer session regrettably skipped, in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak. With the experience gained over a decade, Tzu Chi volunteers know how much the youth look forward to the campfire party and games and made sure to resume the custom as it was long overdue. And so, finally, a symbolic campfire would burn bright again during the two consecutive day camp.

Students learn inspiring songs together yet wear masks for protection while participating in indoor summer camp activities as a group. Photo/Huiyi Qin

Moreover, new students were participating in the camp this year, so for them, it would be the start of a new cherished tradition. For the newcomers, learning about Tzu Chi’s core missions – charity, medical, education, and humanistic culture – during the camp would be a novel and exciting experience as well.

Students newly elected into the Tzu Chi Youth Group (Tzu Shao) Committee took part in the planning stage of the 2021 summer camp program. They were thrilled to collectively help determine the content of games and activities, spending Fridays before the start of camp in meetings to discuss their respective jobs and progress made until then.

In this planning process, I also learned about many teaching methods and leadership skills, and hope to make the most of it in the future.

And, the Committee members were overjoyed about their dual roles as planners and participants once the camp session began.

The Intense Summer Heat Didn’t Diminish the Campers Energy

The two-day activity-packed camp saw students’ enthusiasm rise above the discomfort of summer’s intense heat outdoors. The 35 participating campers, ranging in age from 12 to 17, were still full of energy, playing and laughing together, reminding all the adults at the scene of their bygone days of unbridled youth. And then, the meals were another thing to look forward to, allowing the campers to concoct personal vegetarian sandwich creations.

The summer camp’s meals include seaweed rolls and vegetarian sandwiches that the students make themselves, making lunchtime fun while promoting a vegetarian diet. Photo/Huate Zhang

For the Tzu Chi volunteers acting as guides and tutors during the camp, this time around, the energetic assistance from Tzu Chi Youth Group members helped a lot, saving them a lot of work in preparing the program. For Huiheng Yuan, a volunteer who employed an interactive game format to vividly introduce Tzu Chi’s missions, enlisting Tzu Chi Youth Group members in planning also made her take notice of their capacity and valued contributions.

“I started to look appreciatively with a new pair of eyes at kids I’d known for years,” Huiheng said. “Like Shaotang Ci and Beibei Dai who consistently first provided snacks for group members then stayed until the end to clean up after everybody, putting others ahead of themselves,” she gave as one example. It offered a glimpse into a side of these children that she hadn’t noticed before, their selflessness and genuine concern for others.

The first day’s activities culminated in singing and dancing around a symbolic campfire single-handedly planned by Yizhen Yang, a most imaginative volunteer. Having racked her brains about a design, she asked her husband to create a bright red “campfire” using a wood box, fan, lamp, colorful glass, and paper streamers. The couple’s enthusiastic son contributed by cheering everyone on as they sang and danced around the creative flames.

Singing and dancing around the symbolic campfire brings the first day of the summer camp to a close. Photo/Huiyi Qin

Fun and Games With a Message

Tzi Chi’s summer camps are not just about having fun and playing games, as volunteers aim for the campers to gain valuable insights about life while enjoying themselves. Along with this type of rationale, the next day’s program included a knot tying exercise designed by Xunlong Zhuang. 

The activity’s primary purpose was not just about getting the hang of knot tying but also about how we can unite in an effort and work together to accomplish the goal. Some campers quickly got the intended message and helped Xunlong guide the others. Soon, everyone understood how this was a metaphor that could be applied widely, especially within Tzu Chi’s mission of bringing relief to those suffering by working as a team.

A cooperative game allows campers and Tzu Chi volunteers to experience the power of cooperation on Day Two of the camp. Photo/Huate Zhang

Ultimately, in this game and others, what seemed like play in a light mood, actually delivered a profound message about working together with respect and care, in the spirit of one mind and heart on the path of benevolent action. It all culminated in a meaningful two days of summer for the campers, Tzu Chi Youth Group participants, and Tzu Chi volunteers.

The camp also marked the beginning of a new journey along the Tzu Chi Path for some newcomers.

I like the Tzu Chi Youth Group very much and will surely join in September, for I also want to help others!

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