Youth tackle Sanskrit, global conflict in new age of summer camps

Sahana Samrat, 5, right, pays close attention to the written Sanskrit words on a whiteboard taught by Sowmya Joisa, left, at a children's Sanskrit language class, in Newcastle, on Saturday, May 10, 2014.  (Photograph by MARCUS YAM/The Seattle Times)
Sahana Samrat, 5, right, pays close attention to the written Sanskrit words on a whiteboard taught by Sowmya Joisa, left, at a children’s Sanskrit language class, in Newcastle, on Saturday, May 10, 2014. (Photograph by MARCUS YAM/The Seattle Times)

When I was a kid, summer camp typically meant four weeks of dodge ball in a church basement.

Kids these days have far more exotic options including boat buildingcircus arts and giant puppet construction.

But it’s the diversity of internationally themed camps in our region that have me longing for a summer vacation.

Whether you want to immerse yourself in an ancient language, examine the roots of conflict in the Middle East or relive the French Revolution, there’s a camp for you (and your globally minded kid).

“Sanskrit is the most mathematical and precise language,” says Rajinder Kaul, a language teacher with the Vitastaa Sanskrit family camp at The Evergreen State College in Olympia the first weekend in August . “They say it’s the best language for software and coding.”

That might sound a little intimidating to Sanskrit newbies, but Kaul, who has a Sanskrit ohm tattooed on his right hand and has studied the language since 2005, promises that anyone with an interest in the South Asian language has what it takes to start learning.

As proof he let me sit in on a children’s Sanskrit class last Saturday. I expected solemn little children miserably murmuring through lists of esoteric vocabulary, but instead found a dozen barefoot kids ecstatically singing about foxes.

Praneel Ankalkoti, 8, could hardly contain his enthusiasm, “My favorite word is ghaTI . It means clock!” he shouts while bouncing in front of me holding a large wall clock with a circle of Sanskrit numerals.

“It’s important for him to know his culture and where he comes from,” says Praneel’s mom, Nagaveni.

Ankalkoti is originally from India and got involved this year with Samskrita Bharati Seattle, an organization dedicated to teaching Sanskrit.

While many of the people headed for Sanskrit family camp this August are from India, or have some Indian-language background, everyone is welcome and no prior Sanskrit knowledge is necessary.

Praneel Ankalkoti, 8, from left, Koustub Grama, 6, Gargi Basavapatna, 6, and Akhil Samrat, 8, attend a children's Sanskrit language class taught by Sowmya Joisa, not pictured, in Newcastle, on Saturday, May 10, 2014.  (Photograph by MARCUS YAM/The Seattle Times)
Praneel Ankalkoti, 8, from left, Koustub Grama, 6, Gargi Basavapatna, 6, and Akhil Samrat, 8, attend a children’s Sanskrit language class taught by Sowmya Joisa, not pictured, in Newcastle, on Saturday, May 10, 2014. (Photograph by MARCUS YAM/The Seattle Times)

But if the language of geopolitics is more your middle-schooler’s style, check out Kids 4 Peace — a new summer camp in Mount Vernon that brings Israeli, Palestinian and American kids together to discuss religion, politics and the roots of conflict.

“We talk to each other, play with each other, learn from each other,” says Rula Saleh, a Program Team Leader with Kids 4 Peace.

Saleh got involved with the organization as a result of firsthand experience.

“The airstrikes, the bombs, the killings, the injuries,” says Saleh remembering what it was like living in Jerusalem — where she grew up — during a bout of intense violence in the early 2000s, “I had to start doing something for my people.”

For Saleh that meant “sowing the seeds of peace” with the next generation through Kids 4 Peace summer camps, which take place throughout the United States (though this will be their first year in the Pacific Northwest).

The Mount Vernon camp is Aug. 8-17 and will focus on activities that promote dialogue, explore personal identity and teach about the nature of conflict. Though I’m assured they’ll be doing “fun traditional camp stuff,” too, like sports, hiking and s’mores.

If you like your fireside food fancier than melted marshmallows, you might consider a week at Canoe Island French Camp on Orcas Island, where campers can study everything from French cuisine to the French Revolution.

Sticking closer to home? There’s always The Seattle Art Museum’s global art camp, the Leif Erikson Lodge’s Nordic dance classes, The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington’s Japanese language classes and the Young Chefs of Seattle’s Ethnic Cuisine class.

All of which sound a lot better than dodge ball.

Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.

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