Going from a camper to a co-faculty in a COOL Camp was a dream come true for me. Those five years of being a camper was an absolute delight and a wonderful journey with love, laughter and learning. Watching all those Annas and Akkas sing, dance and teach us the super energetic theme songs made me want to do it someday too. And surprise surprise, I finally did it this year. Creating Optimistic OutLook (COOL) Camp organised by CHYK Chennai, is the trademark annual summer camp for children aged 7-13 years. It sees a participation of over 500 campers, 50 faculty members, 60 volunteers and 20 organisers on an average every year.
These 8 days where I stood in the front with my friends, watching the bright eyes of the campers follow our steps gave me a comfort which I cannot even hope to express with words. How when we told a story, they were clinging on to every word that left our lips and how every emotion that was spoken about in the story, they felt it too. Their capability to make new friends, to approach us for all queries they had, every step of love and intelligence they show, all of it astounded me.
This year's COOL Camp had 400 campers, 50 faculties and 50 volunteers and each and every one of us had an absolute blast!
'Cool Ideas' was the theme of this year's COOL Camp and some of the extremely cool ideas they learnt about were Indian Sign Language, India’s first rocket launch, Chandragupta Maurya’s gigantic empire, ancient Indian temples, animation, agriculture and so much more. You would think that children may find this difficult, but they were all smart and lapping up the sessions like never before. Grasping topics like trade and commerce is difficult but our cool campers found it delightful. They even participated in their own trade with other groups! Along with being smart, they were also extremely creative. Everyday we had a 'creative corner' wherein we engaged the campers with different craft activities. Be it coin making, testing of wind energy or even making up their own language, the Campers did it all. They also learnt the Maheshvarasutrani, the foundation of Sanskrit grammar. Some campers got points for their group by chanting all 14 verses perfectly.
Every group also learnt a bhajan in a different Indian language. For example, Konkani, Telugu, Hindi, Assamese etc. were some of the languages that they learnt bhajans in.
Festival celebrations also form a crucial part of the camp. For each of the 8 days, we come together and learn the significance and celebrate an Indian festival. One of the days we celebrated the harvest festival, Pongal. The campers took the help of the faculty members and volunteers in making some delicious sweet and buttery Pongal for which they received points!
Every year we have a much awaited event, the 'Cool Elections', where candidates are chosen to stand for election. Each candidate is given a value after which their party will be named. The candidates are the sevaks and they are given a select number of party members comprising faculty members, volunteers, and the coolest of them all, campers. These parties’ campaign during lunch break, snack breaks and get one or two opportunities to do it in the Cool Elections sessions. This year our three values were Veeram (power), Selvam (prosperity) and Kalvi (knowledge). All candidates had amazing campaigns and on the last day after a final campaign and the voting hour, Kalvi and Selvam tied for the first place!
The camp schedule includes common sessions with Swami Mitrananda and Br. Anand Chaitanya, the spiritual mentors at Chinmaya Mission Chennai. Anandji's sessions this year took us on the journey of kalarippayattu, Rama killing Tataka, the wonderful boat rides of Kerala and to Krishna's life. We were always left wanting more!
And of course, we have the master of storytelling, our Cool Director, Swami Mitranandaj. Swamiji’s session made me think about how centuries before all the kids used to sit under the banyan tree looking at the wise person who will always tell them stories but with a secret lesson attached to them. This year Swamiji took us through the glories of Hanuman, the Hanuman Chalisa. He gave us the strength required to be just like Hanuman, the one superhero that everyone loves. Each word in every verse of the Hanuman Chalisa carries a meaning, a story behind it and a lesson we should learn.
Going through the journey of being a camper to a volunteer to a faculty to an organiser is something all of us look forward to. Every year I’m left with a thought that COOL Camp could not get any better. Hopefully every year it continues to prove me wrong!