Editor’s Note: Each year, the Jewish Agency for Israel sends a group of young emissaries (shlichim) to serve as counselors and specialists at Camp Ramapo, a summer camp in Northern New-York, Dutchess County, for children with special needs. A non-profit established in 1922, Ramapo gathers a wide spectrum of special needs children under one umbrella. The shlichim at Ramapo bring a cultural perspective that has become a special part of the Ramapo experience. Shaked Karp, 24, came to Ramapo three years ago after completing her service in an Israeli army intelligence unit and has has returned every year since. She explains why here.
It was a rainy July evening; I was in the middle of a forest at a New York summer camp, and after a long, hard day I found myself breathless and aggravated and chasing a 16-year-old boy who was crying in distress. He was one of the challenging campers, to say the least; he would turn any situation into a daily struggle that made coping with him very difficult and frustrating. Getting him to act according to our expectations and camp rules hard, and my relationship with him started off badly. “The staff supervisor with the weird accent is too tough,” he said.
That night, he stormed out of the session we held every evening, in which we marked our favorite moments of the day, discussed our hopes for the next day and reviewed the schedule. The chase turned into an hour long heart-to-heart conversation where he told me about how he never fit in, and how nothing ever worked for him in life and how his true ambition was to excel at the camp by reaching the intern program and becoming a staff assistant.
For him, the camp was a stepping stone, a chance to break bad habits, old patterns and the labels he has been living with. All his life, he was the odd one out. Only in the special atmosphere of the camp did he realize he really had a chance. I too realized he had a chance. I pushed him to break his own boundaries until he was tired of me. He started to deal with issues he had always tried to forget, he tried to control his mood swings and reactions — and one of the achievements I’m most proud of is that we empowered him to lead a session every day for a group of children with severe autism.
He has not transformed entirely. But I think that something sprouted and started to build inside him. There was a new level of confidence and self-acceptance. He started to demonstrate practical skills of coping with his moods and discovered new tools that will serve him in the present and future. I believe in him and in what he can do and I told him that every chance I got.
Maybe that’s the point: To believe in a child is to push him to not fear boundaries, not to lose hope in light of difficulties, to choose not to give up or run away. To find the right way to communicate with a child is to believe in him a little more.
Shaked Karp lives in Ramat Gan. During the year, she runs a project to bring Israeli kids to Ramapo.