Hindu Heritage Youth Camp: Promoting Hindu Dharma

Camp Counselors
Camp Counselors
HOUSTON: It’s a warm Sunday afternoon and the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp (HHYC) is in the midst of its weekly camp training meeting. Rohan Chaudhary, a third year counselor, is leading a group of 50 counselors in teaching “Ram, Ravan” – an activity that puts a twist on the game of tag while humorously incorporating the story of the Ramayana. Halfway through the game, the counselors cannot contain their laughter and the game is halted briefly so they can catch their breath.

Established in 1984, HHYC was founded with the goal of promoting Hindu dharma. However, the shared friendships and laughter play a big part in bringing these counselors back to camp every year, many of whom were campers themselves. When asked about his motivation behind returning to camp, third year counselor (and lifetime camper) Shyam Mishra said that it’s “the lifelong friendships I’ve formed and the chance to form new ones every year. You get to enjoy a week of home cooked meals, connect with people, play and strengthen your mind and body (through exercises and yoga) with kids that are the same age and have the same interests. Fun activities are planned and you’re learning about your culture and strengthening your identity.

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Behind all the relationships and fun, the founding goals have clearly not been forgotten. First time Director Namita Pallod, states her goal for the camp is for “kids to feel proud of their Hindu identity and instill them with curiosity about their own faith so they explore it further on their own, even after departing camp.” In a similar sentiment, Akash Dhingra, adds that he hopes the camp helps kids in “being united in peace with all of God’s creation” as it did for him. President Girish Naik stated that within four hours of opening the registration, over 400 campers registered. Several repeat campers could not register because of the high demand prompting “us to build a bigger Hindu camp site so we can accommodate more campers”

Camp directors, Akash Dhingra (left) and Namita Pallod.
Camp directors, Akash Dhingra (left) and Namita Pallod.
The lifelong relationships that the camp nurtures feeds into the goal of HHYC itself. The friendships that counselors form with campers builds a unique bond between the two and encourages campers to actively participate in daily 3 hour counselor-taught educations such as the 4 Yugas of Hinduism or learning about the Hindu Identity. The campers also form friendships among themselves and build a support system that understands and shares the Hindu American identity. For me, as for many others, attending camp allowed me to connect with others my age that shared my culture, as I grew up in a northern Houston suburb and was probably 1 of 2 Hindu kids at school. The camp continues to provide the platform to discuss and share experiences faced by Hindu American youth and facilitates the realization of being comfortable in your own skin, outside of camp. Namita Pallod speaks for all of us when she says “camp is truly home because that is where my family is.”

Executing this vision requires a lot of help. Apart from 2 Directors and 50 Counselors, there are camp doctors who volunteer, “aunties” who graciously prepare meals and “uncles” who ensure that the kids are not having too much fun. Many community members generously sponsor the camp to ensure the fees are low and all necessary food and supplies are obtained. As Akash Dhingra puts it “That’s the true beauty of this camp, we are all one family and we want to keep it living and growing for generations to come.”

In recent years, HHYC has seen tremendous growth and it is disheartening to turn parents and children away as spots fill up quickly within days of opening. HHYC hopes to have its own campsite, which would help increase our capacity and grow our camp community. We hope that our community continues to support the mission of camp and invests in future generations in retaining their Vedic values.

Abhimanyu Aggarwal is a Junior at University of Texas, Austin

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