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Summer camps increase understanding

In its first year of operation, the Hmong Culture and Language Summer Camp hosted 30 youth and two older youth to assist. The next year there were 100 students, then 300, and then 1,000. Since then the program has leveled out, hosting around 500 students.

Hmong children celebrate their cultural heritage at Concordia University’s summer camp. Photo provided by Concordia University, St. Paul.

The camp began in February 2004. Dr. Robert Holst, the president of Concordia University, St. Paul, called Sally Baas into his office. Holst suggested consideration of creating a summer youth camp emphasizing Hmong culture.

This event plants the seeds for higher education. It helps the youth think beyond pre-K to 12th grade.” -Sally Baas

Baas, the director for the Southeast Asian Teacher (SEAT) licensure program, believed that to be a great idea. “Then I asked who should organize this event. [Dr. Holst] looked at me and said, ‘you.’” With this, Baas began planning for the first Hmong culture summer camp. The mission of the camp is to deepen understanding of Hmong culture through art, gardening, and storytelling.
Since 2004, the camp has expanded its programming; this year is no exception. The 2010 programming includes a raised bed garden consisting of Hmong herbs and vegetables, as well as a portable Hmong house built with help from Hmong elders.
This year’s theme is “Crossing Cultural Bridges.”
The theme highlights another dimension of new programming. “There will be a Latino component,” Baas said. This new aspect fits well with the intention and trajectory of the camp. “There are 20 different language groups represented,” she said. To foster more interaction, Latino literature, history, and art will be offered at the camp, in addition to Hmong cultural components.

Fostering interaction increases safety for all students:

“As youth build relationships with each other, they don’t fight,” Baas said.
“This event plants the seeds for higher education. It helps the youth think beyond pre-K to 12th grade [the ages the camp hosts],” Baas said. It appears that people in the community recognize this event as positive as well.
Currently, the camp has about 100 staff, and they have to turn away volunteers. “People are interested in Hmong culture; they see Hmong people out in public all the time, and they want to know more about the culture,” Baas said. “People want to participate, they know this is a positive event,” she said.
Because the Hmong Culture and Language Summer Camp works closely with the SEAT licensure program, many of the staff are Concordia students. “I get to see students [in the SEAT licensure program] teaching out of their own cultures. It is great,” Baas said.
Another meaningful part of the event is its involvement among Christian groups it has invited. “At the start not a single Christian group participated. Now there are many Christian Hmong groups involved.” Baas said. “It’s a personal ministry of mine, and it is very rewarding.”

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