veg-eco-camp-592x399If your kids are curious about adopting a plant-based diet and eager to learn more about the environment around them, then you might want to consider sending them to the Vegetarian-Eco camp. The camp is run by the non-profit organization, Towards Ahimsa – Sanskrit for “non-violence.”

The camp, which is entering its second summer after a positive debut, takes place at an outdoor education facility north of Peterborough, Ontario from July 12 to 17. There, young campers from 9-16, can explore the outdoors but they also learn about what it means to be vegetarian and eco-friendly.

“We look at the concept of non-violence and how they can practice stuff through their daily life,” says camp director Ambika Jain. “From their food choices to their consumer choices to how they interact people. So ideally they experience outdoor learning as well as a self-awareness through education.”

There are fun, kid-friendly activities, too, like canoeing, outdoor ropes, meditation and yoga.

“As long as they want it, we’ll keep doing it,” says Jain, who we spoke with over the phone to talk further about this awesome idea for summer camp.

What was the impetus behind the idea of the camp?

Our group – Towards Ahimsa — started in 2011. Towards Ahimsa means non-violence in Sanskrit. We all had this feeling that we wanted to move towards ahimsa – non-violence – towards everything in our life. In regards to what we say, how we interact and what we buy. We’ve been running workshops since 2011. The eco camp is about these ideas and how to put them into practice. We really believe non-violence is rewarding and self-satisfying but is also a powerful force to make change in the world. Something that most people are not intuned with or don’t have access to and want to learn more but don’t know how. We consider ourselves students. We want to share what we know and learn as well.

Your philosophy is based on non-violence. What does that specifically entail?

For us, the philosophy of non-violence is our practice in our words and deeds. We take it as general philosophical approach to it. For thinking, it’s along the lines of, are we thinking with clarity? Or are we thinking with ego? Are we being judgmental or biased? So the hope is that we filter our thoughts so we’re not being prejudiced or biased. When it comes to action, what choices are making? We consider the human and environmental impacts of the choices we make. When we look at nonviolence we try to make sure our actions are minimizing the negative impact of the world around us. And the same with what we say. It’s not like we’re not being critical sometimes, but we try to use non-violent language as well. The philosophy of non-violence is ancient and universal, and environmentalism is part of how we practice non-violence.

How important is that children become aware of animal welfare and become more eco-conscious in general?

I think it’s huge. For sure. I think children, as well as adults, needs to realize the implications of the choices we make, especially environmental implications.

We’ve realized over the years as camp directors that the changes we’ve seen in our campers over the years have translated into changes at home. It’s amazing that what the campers have learned are able to take it back to their families. Our hope is that when we do teach at camp, even though we’re environmental and vegan camp, we’re not trying to push that agenda we’re just presenting the facts that are out there, but it’s up to you what want to do with that information. And that’s our approach with everything. We have children that come to camp who aren’t vegetarian, and they’re obviously not singled out in anyway. But from our perspective it’s, this is the information that we know and we try to present the information, which is clear and unbiased, in a fun and interactive way. Our hope is that the campers make their own choices after that. Camp runs a vegan menu, and some of them tell us, “We really love this food. We want to eat it at home,” and we’ll say, “Okay, that’s good. But you might want to tell your parents about that first.”

We’re trying to give them an example and potential of how life is like when you’re conscious of making the choices around you. Start thinking about the choices you make, like, about the birthday gift you’re buying. Things that are on their level. We hope that as they move on, they’re able to make other life-changing choices more consciously.

So this will be your second year. What’s been the feedback like from those who attended last summer?

Amazing. We’ve had a lot of the kids who are coming back this year, so that’s a great sign for us. Some kids who I didn’t think connected to the ideas are actually coming back, so that’s great, too. The children really liked the meditation, mindfulness, and yoga sessions. We try to put those activities in a non-traditional way. We modify them to make it children-friendly, so they’ve really connected to it. And we’ve had some parents tell us that their kids won’t kill bugs around the house anymore. So it’s the small things. There was one kid who decided that he wanted to become vegan after camp, and he had a discussion about it with his parents. So his parents said, “Okay, for three days a week, you can practice a vegan diet and for the rest of the week, you’ll eat the house diet,” which was great. I think that was a beautiful compromise. I mean, at the age of thirteen to have a discussion with your family about that is wonderful.

The changes in the children have been good. We’ve had camp evaluations from both parents and children, and they were all strong, so that’s why we’re pushing through with another year.

What do you have to say for those parents who might question the healthiness of a vegan lifestyle for kids?

Well, first of all, I want to say that there will always be people who question that. Studies after studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets are well suited for humans, for adults and kids, as long as it’s balanced. As with all diets, if it’s not balanced, it’s not going to work. Our kids are camp are healthy and strong. I’ve been raised vegetarian, and my children have as well. The critics frequently point out the lack of B12 or calcium or protein, but, really, a vegetarian diet can accommodate these things in a more healthy way than one with meat. To each their own, but, for us, to advocate an eco-vegan camp, especially to highlight the ecological component of it, we would need a vegan diet. The implication of farming is huge on the environment as is the violence of killing animals, so we wouldn’t modify anything on our menu. Chefs who make sure there is a balanced meal – your fruit, veggies, carbs and protein, prepare the food at camp. And that’s what the kids eat, and that’s what they end up enjoying.

Why should kids (and their parents) consider attending the camp?

We think there are those who interested in this idea. Parents need childcare over the summer. This is an affordable option. Because it’s non-profit and volunteers run it, we are able to keep our costs low. Also the ideas we present aren’t offered at other camps. It’s a beautiful, holistic introduction to ecological concepts for children. Instead of learning about one eco concept at school and then they’re done with it, at camp they are able to live it. They’re living it for a week and they’re practicing action. When they can internalize this and put them into action, it’s much more hopeful that they’ll be able to continue these ideas later on.

For more info on the camp, click here.

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