Canoeing, s’mores and campfire singalongs, fun firsts for newcomer families
Five Syrian refugee families new to Nova Scotia got a taste of Canadian camping culture at Kejimkujik National Park this past weekend.
For some of the families, it was their first camping trip ever.
They joined Canadians and immigrants from other countries for the overnight expedition.
Itehaad Al Smadi is a single mother who came to Halifax with three of her children in February. They arrived in Canada from a refugee camp in Jordan. Before that, they lived in Daraa, a city in Syria that’s been ravaged by civil war.
Back country basics
On Saturday, they bused from the city with 24 other Syrian refugees to spend the night at a group campsite on the shores of Kejimkujik Lake.
Campers learned the basics of back country camping and cooking.
“We enjoyed sharing our shawarma sandwiches, coffee, and music with one another. I hope that the next time I can cook for all the campers,” Al Smadi said through an interpreter.
They also learned how to cook bannock, roast marshmallows and make s’mores over a fire.
Other highlights included a group paddle on the Mersey River in Keji’s 20-person Voyageur Canoe and an evening campfire that included a singalong and drum circle.
‘Kejimkujik was a peaceful place’
Urud Aliyu tented with her husband and their four children.
“I wish that we could have spent a longer time camping,” she said through an interpreter. “Kejimkujik was a peaceful place and it was lovely waking up to the sound of birds.”
Hilary Thorne says the camping trip for the Syrian refugee families took a few months to plan.
Thorne works with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), and helped to organize the overnight camping trip at Keji.
‘A really important experience’
She spends a lot of time thinking about opportunities to help refugees explore Nova Scotia outside of the city.
“For our newcomers who are experiencing a lot of stresses, I think this is a really important experience for them,” she said.
Those stresses can include isolation, racism, culture shock, financial hardship, language barriers and transportation.
“In terms of mental health, I think getting out of the city and into nature, and having that experience, is so important and it’s something that our recent newcomers might not have the opportunity to do.”
Thorne says she hopes the weekend camping trip will evolve into an ongoing relationship with Parks Canada.
Parks Canada offers its Learn-to Camp program at national parks across the country.
Last weekend was the second one of these camps to be hosted at Keji.