Kids at Junior Peacebuilders day camp assemble aid for refugees

Youth from 7-14 assemble relief kits for refugees ‘helping the world be a better place’

CBC News Posted: Aug 24, 2017

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Twenty-nine kids from age 7-14 packed into the Mennonite Central Committee Warehouse in Kitchener, Ont. on August 23, 2017 to fill relief kits for refugees and learn about international aid relief. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

The last few days of summer holidays are precious to kids. But the 29 youths who gathered in the back of a Kitchener, Ont. thrift store warehouse this week for a day camp made their holiday a humanitarian effort.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s Peacebuilders Day Camp gathered public-spirited youngsters together to pack aid relief kits and take part in the “blanket exercise,” an education tool used to start conversations about reconciliation.

“We kind of see relief aid as this way to have a bigger conversation around how we use our lives to help our communities be a little bit better for all of us,” said organizer Carolyn Gray.

Small people, big impact

The day was designed by Gray, Maggie Pearson — a global studies student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. — and Amy Warren, a peace and conflict studies student at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo.

Assembling about 50 relief kits for families and 150 hygiene kits for individuals, the kids spent their day stuffing boxes and buckets, making a difference for hundreds of people around the world.

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Tessa, Mira and Eden (L to R), all took part in the day, packing relief kits to send to refugees and others in need, at home and abroad. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

It’s a concept that participant Mira, 10, is starting to understand.

“These are hygiene kits that they have two combs, some band aids, some towels, two kinds of soap, toothbrushes and shampoo,” she said.

“And basically we just send it there for people who need that stuff.”

She came to the camp with her friends Tess and Eden, 11, who were helping compile a basic relief kit, which can provide a family of four with necessities.

“I really like learning about stuff like this,” said Tessa, who hopes to do as much as she can to help.

“Yesterday they said that they needed to get more, ’cause they ran out of stuff, so hopefully we can do that today too.”

Helping those in need

Gray said these kits will mostly be going to relief efforts in Ukraine, although kits built at the MCC will often go to refugee camps, urban areas that need support, or recovery zones after floods, earthquakes or other disasters.

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Carolyn Gray helped organise the event, bringing 29 kids together to pack around 200 kits to send to refugees across the world. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

The day was interspersed with workshops and activities, to help break down and explain the big concepts of international aid.

“The amazing thing about relief aid is that it’s so hands on and tangible,” said Gray.

“It’s this way to start to thinking about peace, both by working on these tangible items, but also as an entry point to start thinking about relationships for peace, or how to use other resources for development work.”

“I’m helping the world be a better place.”– 12-year-old Libby

Libby, 12, came with her brother, after her family offered support to sponsored refugees this past year.

“I love being a part of stuff like this,” she said. “It gives me a very warm and happy feeling, like I’m helping the world be a better place.”

The workshops of the day struck a chord with her, encouraging her to continue to give back.

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One camper looks on as they’re shown what goes into a typical relief kit, which is designed to supply a family of 4 with necessities. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

“The refugees that have to leave their country, are forced to leave because of war or starvation,” she said.

“It’s just so sad to think that people have to live like that.”

‘International aid for 8-year-olds’

While the day was hugely successful, Gray said it takes some planning to figure out how to get certain ideas across.

“You need to think about how to communicate to 8-year-olds,” she said. But adds that it’s not as hard as many imagine.

“The amazing thing is that kids are open to these concepts and they want to know how to apply it to their lives.”

One of the youngest participants of the day was 7-year-old Laertes, who was rolling up hygiene products into hand towels and bags.

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Laertes was one of the youngest peacebuilders of the day, at just 7 years old. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

For him, his job was very simple, but his intention clear.

“Roll it up, and that’s it,” he said. “They’re going to Syria and refugees. That’s what I’m hoping.”

It emphasizes what Gray said is the most important message of the day is that kids care, and are capable of making a difference.

“Kids are very open to wanting to give back to the world.”

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