My opportunity to attend WYA’s international summer camp has been overall the most eye-opening and culturally enriching experience I have ever taken a part of since WYA’S stance on the rights of a human person and beliefs regarding the development of society are inclusive and relatable in many cultures, we as a group of campers are able to come together in solidarity to commonly agree and profess these ideas as a whole. Although WYA is a non-religious organization, their belief that the dignity of a person is intrinsic and inalienable concurs with many societal doctrines and religions belief systems. Personally, coming to WYA for camp, I wasn’t sure what o expect or who I’d meet, but I was pretty set on coming with an open mind and accepting to soak up whatever I’m exposed to, despite my conservative views I’ve been brought up with. Surely enough, walking into camp a week ago, I probably wouldn’t have expected all the strong friendship I’ve formed here. Upon my arrival the first camper I met was a really nice girl around my age from Denmark. I myself have never met someone from Denmark, nor did I expect to become such great friends with a Danish person, which has strongly increased as we became roommates at camp. Another instance was when I met two girls from Mexico, I’ve taken Spanish classes throughout elementary school up until currently, a total of almost 12 years now, and I thought it was so amazing to be able to speak to them in their native language and I also admire how well they speak English as well. From all the people I’ve met, the three people that have really truly opened my mind were my 3 Egyptian friends I’ve made. To be quite honest, I’ve never met an Egyptian or heard anyone speak Arabic. I had no idea what their culture is like, their belief systems, what they like to do.. it was all so new to me to meet people I felt like I would have nothing in common with. Fortunately, as I got closer with each one of them, I’ve learned not only to fully accept but completely appreciate their culture and religion because at the end of the day, we are all people, and honestly, they are some of the nicest, most open-minded, and good-spirited people I’ve ever met. Through the times I’ve shared learning from what they’ve had to say, I got to learn about their governmental system, climate, their revolution, their culture, and most interesting to me – their religion.
Being Catholic myself, I can frankly say that I’m not exactly an expert on the Islam religion, nor have I ever gone out of my way to learn of it. I was truly amazed by how interesting their beliefs were and how many core values and ideas are very prevalent in both religions. I remember spending train ride or hours at the house just discussing the similarities in our beliefs and all the traditions. Not only are they great people at heart, but they were so accepting, they even joined me and some other campers to Sunday mass willingly, although optional. Looking back now, I realize that there’s no way I would have been able to reach that level of understanding and appreciation of all these amazing people. As Ghanaian diplomat, the UN Secretary General, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kofi Annan once said, “we may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” I think that this statement is what WYA is all about-Breaking boundaries by building cultural bridges. I’ve never had so much openness in my heart and understanding at all these diverse people and I can’t help but be beyond thankful to the WYA counselors and campers that made such an impact on me and left me going onward with so much knowledge and experience. I’d gladly come back to rejoin all my new friends, for I’m sure the friendships were made will last a lifetime.
By Caitlin Bañez, a WYA member and International Summer Camp participant from Maryland