For the fifth consecutive year, a Summer Camp was held for more than 365 children, organized by the facilitators, coordinators and volunteers at SARVAM. After the schools closed for summer vacation, the children were enthusiastically looking forward to the Summer Camp this year, and anticipating the fun with the various activities planned for them. The camp required detailed and extensive planning much in advance of the commencement. The camp was held for 23 days from May 6 to 28, 2013, the hours being from 6.30 am to 7 pm, and besides the various planned activities the children being provided juice/fruit/snack twice a day, in addition to a mid-day meal. The days were packed with nearly 35 fun-filled yet educative sessions for all age groups of children participating.
Every year the Summer Camp provides an opportunity to children in the age group of 6 to 17 to learn new skills, character- and discipline-building exercises, art forms, sporting and gaming activities, health check-ups, outdoor trips, spiritual knowledge, handicrafts, some stimulating and intellectual games and other such extracurricular activities. This year, some of the highlights were learning Bharatanatyam and some semi-classical dance forms; musical instruments, vocal music, and folk dances; martial arts; sketching, drawing and painting; performing a puppet show; yoga and other exercises; beadwork and stitching; organized and spontaneous sporting activities; excursions to a water park ‘Pogoland’ and a generator-making factory; and sumptuous and healthy food, snacks and juice every day.
The children were also treated to a visit to pyramid-shaped meditation centre in Villiyanoor. Doctors from various renowned hospitals of Pondicherry visited the Camp for eye and dental check-up of all the participants. Some members of the Chinmaya Mission, Pondicherry, used games, activities and storytelling to teach children the benefits of good values. These members were extremely dedicated and always smilingly engaged the students in various pursuits, keeping in mind that the attention span of youngsters is less if not completely involved in the activity. The computer classes were unanimously the favourite activity of most of the children. A number of educative games were added which could be played through two software, MovieSoup and Scratch, used at SATYAM. These games help the students in the study of reasoning, logic, mathematical ability, and dimensions (such as height, length, depth, etc.).
Every day the students (especially the older children) were assigned certain duties before, during and after camp hours. Watering plants and keeping the surroundings clean; ensuring that water and other resources were not wasted; helping the volunteers with the cartage of food from the kitchens to and fro the dining area; rinsing the plates, glasses and other utensils used for eating before handing them over for a wash; keeping the footwear (taken off at the entrance, as is a custom in this part of the country) in an order which matched military precision; ensuring that decorum and discipline were maintained while moving from one class to another or even during snack and lunch breaks; and opening and closing the gates at the start and end time of the Camp were activities which were aimed at inculcating a sense of regulation, obedience, and discipline.
For the first time during this Summer Camp, a few volunteers and an organization from Auroville, an international township at the outskirts of Puducherry, participated to contribute towards the growth of the children at SARVAM. They not only taught the children about first aid, reacting to natural calamities and manmade disasters, and need for communal unity at the time when any emergency arises; they taught the children about the importance of reading books and newspapers; and most importantly the children at the village were introduced to who Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were—for the very first time in SARVAM’s history. The Aurovillian group also taught some unique ways of doing crafts and handwork.
Another interesting factor this year has been the number of volunteers who helped the SARVAM coordinators in the kitchen at the Camp. Everyday 10 or so volunteers were required to prepare the snacks and lunch that was provided to the children. For the last two years, women from the villages had been volunteering to do the work, which they would do with a lot of enthusiasm and good humour. This year there were so many volunteers from all the surrounding villages offering their services that SARVAM facilitators actually used the services of 230 or more volunteers by the end of the camp duration, which meant that hardly any one woman could work for more than a day, and this was despite when most of them were keen to work for more days. It shows the interest and the ownership that the people feel for SARVAM and its activities.
On the final day of the Camp, Sports and Culture Day was conducted, which was attended by 400 parents and many important members of the village committees, including the Vice President of the Panchayat. In this programme, the children proudly showcased all they had learned during the Camp, including performing mimes, skits and folk dances; singing songs and reciting poems; playing of flutes; and displaying martial arts skills. There were some races and group sports in which the children participated good-naturedly, without any pressure of losing, just enjoying their last day together at the Camp. The Camp ended on a happy note, with the children already looking forward to the summer next year.