This year, I spent my third summer at AYF Camp Haiastan as a staff member.
The purpose of Camp Haiastan is to connect the Armenian diaspora youth and maintain the Armenian nation. We not only provide campers with a summer of fun, games and activities, but also help them understand and develop their Armenian identity.
Every day, campers attend Hye Jahm (Armenian Hour), one-hour lessons on Armenian history, language and current events. The goal is for everyone to learn something new and return home with an increased awareness and a desire to expand their knowledge.
One of the most rewarding activities for staff is teaching campers traditional dances that are popular in the eastern United States Armenian community and have been passed down from generation to generation. They are the Pompouri, Haleh (Camp Haiastan style), Tamzara and the “Michigan Hop.” Armenian dancing is the most popular activity among staff and campers alike. We are grateful that the Pavilion can accommodate 200 of us dancing at once.
Another activity that stands out is “Song Night,” where campers learn different traditional folk and patriotic songs. They also learn the songs’ meaning and historical significance and perform them as a cabin.
There is also the daily flag-raising and lowering. Campers learn the etiquette of this ceremony as the American, Armenian and Artsakh flags are honored.
Finally, campers recite the Hayr Mer and Jashagestook prior to each meal.
During my three years as staff at camp, we have hosted over a thousand Armenians from 25 states across the U.S. We also have campers from Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Lebanon, Monaco and Switzerland.
Camp Haiastan attracts youth from every corner of the Diaspora who want to learn more about what it means to be Armenian. Staff members feel proud to connect campers to their heritage at “the happiest place on Earth.” Helping campers develop their identity while giving them an experience like no other strengthens our communities. Camp Haiastan will be a home to many across the world for years to come.