Exploring belonging: Experiences of refugee children and families in Camp Cosmos

N. Ives, PhD, H. Alqawasma, P. Kline, L. Morland, M. Rabiau, E. Gonzalez (2019)

Research Report Presented to Montreal City Mission

Camp Cosmos was founded in 1971 in Montreal to provide children from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds with a safe and fun environment to play, learn and grow. The summer camp is grounded on an anti-oppression philosophy that drives its enriching intercultural, accessibility, environmental, youth leadership and athletic programs. After 47 summers of empowering children, building communities with families, and fostering support networks with partner organizations, Camp Cosmos continues to be a vehicle of social transformation in Montreal. Since 1971, more than 2000 children have participated in the Camp Cosmos summer camp program. In response to the Syrian refugee crises, Camp Cosmos expanded in 2016 to create a second camp on Montreal’s West Island. That year, 23 Syrian children were welcomed at both the West Island and Downtown locations. In summer 2017, numbers rose, with 28 Syrian children and 12 children whose families had recently crossed the Canadian/USA border for a total of 40 (camp fees waived). The total number of campers in 2017 was 121 (up from 50 in 2014). In addition to welcoming Syrian campers, there were also 3 young Syrian counselors-in- training who had their first Canadian job experience. In 2018, with the aim to continue adapting to the Montreal society’s needs, Camp Cosmos welcomed 158 campers from diverse backgrounds, introduced a sliding scale payment system to welcome a greater diversity of campers, and extended the hours of care to improve access to camp. The camp adapted their 5-day staff training to include a greater focus on their anti- oppression mandate and a focus on accessibility by collaborating with Montreal-based organizations. For the first time, the camp welcomed 12 and 13-year-old campers, filling the previously existing age gap, to participate in a new program that included both activities with the whole camp as well as volunteer opportunities at community organizations.