When 13-year-old Mahado attended a summer camp with United Way BC partner agency, Umoja Compassion Society, a decade ago, she hoped to make friends and have fun. For sisters, Zahra (11) and Basma (7), it’s the same.
“I remember the leaders that led the summer camp. I remember the field trips we went on,” says Mahado Hassan. But that experience ended up being more than just fun. It provided the inspiration for her to serve as a mentor and lead supervisor with Salam Central’s Summer Camp for Muslim children, which both Zahra and Basma attend.
Started in 2022 in Surrey, the summer camp was founded and entirely led by youth who are 15-18 years old. This year, United Way BC School’s Out Summer funding meant the camp could expand from one to three weeks allowing more kids to have experiences that help them develop confidence and a sense of belonging to community.
New voices for changing times
“We want to create programming for Muslim youth, but we want to be different because we want it to be led by youth for youth,” Mahado says. “Often when it comes to programming for Muslim youth, it’s Muslim elders who are running it. There is a bit of a disconnect when it comes to programming and what folks’ needs are.”
To remedy this, in 2021, the co-creators of Salam Central, 17-year-olds, Sara and Muryam connected with Solid State, a hub for Surrey co-operatives led by youth under 30 from racialized backgrounds. The co-ops aim to address the lack of mobility, access to resources, training and education faced by the BIPOC community. Today, there are 23 projects. Salam Central is one of those. It’s main priority has been to create a safer space for Muslim children and youth. The summer camp does just that.
For three weeks in July, Monday to Friday between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm, kids share their days with positive role models of similar backgrounds and beliefs.
“A lot of the kids are younger so they can learn basic skills like how to make friends and teamwork,” Zahra observes. “The volunteers, the older kids, they helped bring them all together. They played games with them and that made them more comfortable.”
“We didn’t want to have any overly religious programming because faith for folks, it varies. Some are more spiritual, and others are not. We do offer halal snacks and lunch and then prayer, and that is a good balance. This design also allows for other low-income families who are not Muslim to participate,” says Mahado, who also serves as a Co-Director with Solid State. “Parents have been really happy with that.”
“United Way School’s Out Summer seeks to empower tomorrow’s leaders to shape unforgettable experiences today. When summer camps prioritize inclusivity and bridge the generational gap, they can inspire camaraderie and creativity amongst the children who attend them, and they carry those experiences with them into the new school year in September and beyond,” says Trisha Dulku, Strategic Initiatives Manager, Community Impact & Investment at United Way BC.
From September to June, United Way School’s Out provides healthy, safe, educational afterschool programming for children in Grades 1-7 between 3 – 6 pm at BC elementary schools. Many kids lose this vital outside-of-school time support, and healthy food and snacks, during the summer months.
Most families with children attending Salam Central’s Summer Camp don’t have the financial means to pay for summer activities for their children. United Way School’s Out Summer provides families with free or low-cost quality summer programs that are critical for kids’ emotional and social well-being, academic success, and physical health, and overall well-being. At Salam Central those who can afford it pay between $10 and $50 a week.
“[Parents ask] do we have to prove that we need it? Do you want my tax papers or welfare forms? We don’t need that. We understand that that is another barrier,” Mahado says. “It was so great that we were able to secure the support of United Way because we no longer had to turn families away.”
In 2023/24, United Way BC will invest almost $2.9 million in out-of-school time supports across the province, 68% of those children are from BIPOC communities.
Thanks to United Way donors’ support, over 90 children participated in this year’s Salam Central School’s Out Summer camp. And the benefits go much further than just a few weeks in the summer.
Well-being during summer and beyond
“Something that’s a week or two weeks long can have a lifetime impact on children,” Mahado says. “It shapes their character in terms of what they’re learning. It allows them to come out of their bubble and be more confident in their skin. It gives them opportunities that they may not have access to outside of this program.”
For Basma, along with making new friends, it means going to the Central City Fun Park and a local trampoline park. For Zahra, it’s playing basketball. Visiting the library is another big hit with all kids attending the camp.
“The more we’re able to allow children to have these types of experiences, we can allow them to feel that they belong, and they feel that they fit in with the kids,” Mahado says.
“Summer camps are more than just fun; they are transformative experiences that create strong and special friendships. By doing fun things together, learning, and having meaningful conversations, children in School’s Out Summer programs build lasting relationships that help kids grow during a time of year when services are often reduced or unaffordable,” explains Trisha.
And that’s important for everyone, because strengthening vital connections between children, youth, and the rest of the community means a brighter future for all. For example, Zahra would like to volunteer at the summer camp next year working to help younger kids feel more included.
This Summer, 1,500 children will attend United Way BC School’s Out Summer programs at 26 program sites across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.