The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For kids, camaraderie by the campfire

To inculcate a spirit of “fellow-feeling and camaraderie”, a voluntary group has been bringing underprivileged children from across the country — and internationally — together annually for over 40 years for an intensive physical training camp.

The Calcutta-based South Asian Children’s Forum, which started out in 1961, recently concluded the 43rd SAARC Integration Children’s Camp at a Border Security Force training camp in Delhi, with over 100 children — including two from Bangladesh and 18 from Nepal. “The education department of Nepal sent children, both girls and boys, from the local scout chapters,” explains Jnan Maity, principal organiser.

In 1972, Indira Gandhi had attended a camp held in Kalimpong. This year, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam invited the group of youngsters — aged between eight and 15 years — to Rashtrapati Bhavan, spending over twice the scheduled 25 minutes with the kids, all hailing from the “lower-income group”.

Apart from age and economic background, there are no other restrictions about who can apply for this programme. Children wake up early to go for a run, a physical training regimen, followed by a drill. This is followed by “recreation training”, which includes time at the firing range.

Sightseeing in the afternoon is followed by another training session. Where infrastructure and natural conditions permit, the group is taken out for trekking or swimming, always accompanied by trained instructors. Before the 10 pm lights-out, the children show off their talents by the bonfire.

“The idea is to bolster the campers’ self-esteem, as well as teach them to work together with people from divergent backgrounds,” adds Maity.

Next year, the voluntary association is thinking of setting up base in Bhutan. It has in the past held its 10-day event in Bangladesh, Nepal, as well as across the country. Apart from this camp — the group’s main activity — annual sports days, cultural programmes, including Poila Baisakh and Rabindra Jayanti, are also held.

The happy group of campers have come far. “We started with only 45 kids at our first camp, held in Deoghar,” says Maity. “This year, we had 110.”

The line-up has also been upgraded to allow these children from disadvantaged backgrounds to have exposure to emerging technologies.

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