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Christian camp offers cultural exchange

7/21/2013

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

For six Kenyan camp counselors, their time in western Kansas has been a cross-cultural learning and teaching adventure.

This summer, as part of a camp counselor exchange program, six of Lakeview Christian Camp's 11 paid staff members are from Kenya.

It's the first time the camp, located near Webster Reservoir, has employed international counselors.

"They have brought a perspective to everything we do and how we do it," said Joe Zizz, camp executive director. "It's been a great experience."

Much of Zizz's motivation in bringing the Kenyans to Kansas stemmed from his desire to create cross-cultural relationships, not just with campers, but with area churches and community members. The group has visited several western Kansas towns during their stay.

It was a breezy, and sometimes cloudy afternoon at the camp Tuesday, and middle school-age kids prepared for their monumental climb up the 36-foot climbing tower that leads to a 700-foot zip-line.

"As far as I know, we have the longest zip-line in the state of Kansas," Zizz said. "So until someone tells me otherwise, I'm going to keep telling that story."

Fatma Musa and Shiko Nyaga stood nearby discussing their time in Kansas. Swahili phrases interspersed English words, as the counselors encouraged the young campers.

When asked if they have been teaching Swahili to the campers, Musa said a few language lessons have been given.

"Some of them are interested," Musa said. "They come and ask, 'How do you say hello in Swahili?'

"One group had two girls who came back as volunteers and they still remembered the Swahili we taught them. They came up to me and said, 'Fatma, we still remember the meaning of tuko poa -- we are cool.' "

For Musa, the climbing wall and the Kansas climate have been memorable parts of her visit.

"The weather, it's ... sorry to say this, it's extreme," she said.

Nyaga nodded.

"It's either too cold or too hot," Nyaga said.

"The hottest we've ever experienced in Kenya, I think, is about 80 or 90 degrees," Musa added.

In addition to the weather, the Kenyans are experiencing small-town life.

"Something that I've noticed in Kansas is about security," Musa said.

"Joe, he took us to these towns for shopping and he just leaves his car with the keys in and the windows open.

"That would not be normal in Kenya."

"If you did that in Kenya, you wouldn't get your car back," Nyaga said, laughing.

For the two young women, every day at camp has been a learning experience, and an opportunity to grow new relationships.

"The kids are opening up, and they love telling stories," Musa said. "It has really been fun."

For Nyaga, the camp experience ties into her interest in working with children.

"In Kenya, I used to be part of a group called Community Outreach Program where we'd get to every day do something good for the community and mostly for the kids," she said.

"So I would go to different places and help out the kids.

"I love working with kids, so when I was told I was coming here to work with kids, I didn't think twice."

Although riding a combine during harvest has been a high-point of Kenyan camp counselor Grace Yvonne's visit to Kansas, nothing has compared to her time with the campers.

"I've met so many people," she said. "Connected with the kids.

"I loved them so much. ... It's so hard to let them go by Friday."