A camp from another culture

Swimming. Trek. The hot dogs.

These words are often associated with summer camp.

Kids & Culture Camp is different. For four weeks each summer, children ages 3 to 12 gather in the nation’s capital to cook Jamaican food, listen to African music, learn about Mexican history and Japanese clothing, practice Brazilian martial arts and visit the Embassy of Tanzania.

Jania Otey

“Our mission is to inspire children to love learning, embrace culture and live mindfully,” said Jania Otey, member of the Perry Hill Road Christ Church in Montgomery, Ala. She started camp 12 years ago while living in Washington, D.C.

The homeschooled mother wanted to find a camp that would introduce her two sons — especially her eldest, Caleb — to different cultures.

“But I also wanted him to experiment with things that I didn’t necessarily have expertise in,” Otey said, “like African drumming and teaching testing and capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art. “

The nation’s capital offered his sons the opportunity to have all of these experiences and more, but the camps Otey studied were expensive and highly targeted.

So she launched hers.

Connecting with a network of other homeschooled parents, she quickly signed up 70 campers for the first Kids & Culture Camp, or KCC. Otey handled the legalities of the camp, after graduating from Howard University Law School in DC in 2000.

“For me, KCC was my answer to a problem I saw around the world,” Otey said, speaking specifically from the United States. “I don’t think we spend enough time instilling in our kids the importance of learning about people who look like them and people who don’t look like them.

“For me, KCC was my answer to a problem I saw around the world. I think we don’t spend enough time instilling in our children the importance of getting to know people who look like them and people who don’t.

Children embrace a different culture each week by immersing themselves in its visual and performing arts, language, music, math, science, technology, cooking, fitness and games. They also participate in weekly yoga sessions and field trips.

“I’ve actually received feedback from parents telling me that their children learned more during the time they spent with Kids & Culture over the summer than they learned in an entire school year,” said Otey said.

Beyond Surface Learning

Amber Williams, DC resident and member of the Silver Source Christ Church in Maryland, has been taking her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to KCC for four years now. She appreciates that the camp avoids surface classes.

“I think what I love the most is the richness of the program and the level of depth that they immerse kids in when it comes to different cultures,” Williams said.

Kids & Culture Camp offered two in-person sessions during the summer.  The themes were

Kids & Culture Camp offered two in-person sessions during the summer. The themes were “Tanzania’s Treasured Traditions” and “Belize’s Beautiful Shine”.

She often thinks about how society today might be different if adults had been exposed to different traditions.

“Like, how much ignorance would it remove from our society if, at a young age, we were exposed to things, people, and customs that are different from us?” she asked.

Nigel Reynolds, 19, attended KCC for years as a camper and counsellor. Once the children have passed the age limit of the camp, they have the possibility of returning as monitors-in-training. He said the experience helped him broaden his mind and his social network.


Related: Third Culture Kids Find A Place To Belong


“It was a learning experience,” said Reynolds, a junior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. “As a camper, I gained a lot of friends who I still talk to today. And as a counselor, it taught me a few things and helped me be more patient when working with people. people.

Adoniyah Ben-Tsalmiel, 19, began his time at the camp in 2010.

At Kids & Culture Camp, children immerse themselves in visual and performing arts, language, music, math, science, technology, cooking, fitness and games from different cultures.

“It was a great exposure at such a young age to learn more about these different parts of the world,” said Ben-Tsalmiel, who is now a rapper, music producer and songwriter in Silver Spring. He plans to attend a digital media school in Nairobi, Kenya.

Williams encourages anyone interested in enrolling their children in camp to take advantage of the opportunity.

“I think it’s worth taking the opportunity to teach them something they can’t and don’t want to learn in a traditional school environment.”

The pandemic brings innovation

After a decade of Kids & Culture Camp, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges and changes.

Like many schools, the camp moved to a virtual platform in 2020 and 2021. Prior to the pandemic, the camp hosted 125 to 150 children per year. This summer, as camp resumes in-person gatherings, 97 children are registered.

Jaina Otey with her sons Christian and Caleb at Kids & Culture Camp.

Jania Otey with her sons Christian and Caleb at Kids & Culture Camp.

Innovations made during the pandemic have opened doors for Camp, which recently launched an online format for homeschoolers during the spring months. There is also a self-paced online option.

Since the camp started, Otey has moved to Wetumpka, Alabama, near Montgomery. Her husband, Melvin, is a lawyer and traveling evangelist for the Churches of Christ.

Every summer, Jania Otey travels to Washington with Caleb and her youngest son, Christian, to lead the camp.

Although KCC is not a religious camp, Otey connects with other families through their faith.

“I can pray with them and encourage them, pray with some of my teachers and also help some of the families who attend,” she said. “So I think that’s a blessing, and that’s definitely something that I appreciate.”

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