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Boise Kids Bond With Refugees At International Camp Celebration

"Some people have different colors or speak different languages, but that's it."

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Boise has no shortage of niche summer camps to entertain and engage Treasure Valley youth. But perhaps the most unique--certainly the most diverse--summer diversion has been the two-week Boise International Summer Camp, mixing middle-school-aged kids from 10 countries with their Boise counterparts.

The refugee children were unaccustomed to the Western tradition of summer camp. Nonetheless, when the children poured into the Pioneer Neighborhood Community Center, south of downtown Boise July 19 they were already seasoned campers.

"Half the kids in the camp were born and raised in Boise," said Paul Schoenfelder of the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation. "The other half are primarily refugee kids."

More than a few of the campers made what they considered to be lifelong friends.

"I thought everybody--the people from different countries all around the world--would all be so different," said middle-schooler Rachel, who became BFFs with Iraqi refugee Fatinah. "When I came here, I realized that everybody is just the same. Some people have different colors of skin or some people speak different languages, but that's it."

After breaking the campers into groups of four, camp leader Revital Zilonka asked each camper to close his or her eyes and picture a perfect world.

The visions were diverse and imaginative, not defined by nations of origin but rather by a teenager's dreams. Everything from equality to food for was mentioned. One of the more creative dreams came from a camper who wanted his own pet platypus.

Rachel and Fatinah's group described their perfect world as a place where there would be "no bullying; everyone would have friends and love. There are no poor or none too wealthy. There would be no pollution at all and no one would be judged for where they're from. There would be no impossible and there would be no war. Everyone would treat one another with respect and there would be no terrorists. The world would revolve around peace."

The children then blew up brightly colored balloons, wrote words like "greed," "hate" and "war" on them, and promptly stomped them out.

"I learned I can communicate with people and that I can teach them languages through just hand motions. That's a great way to bond with someone," said Rachel. "And you feel good once you teach someone like that."

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