Naomi and Laureen have been helping at the summer camps of PJV for several years. Last summer they helped at Kidaz camp, a summer camp specifically aimed at kids who cannot go to the ‘normal’ camps. These kids might have autism, Down syndrome, or other mental problems.
PJV is a Christian organisation in Belgium that offers several camps and activities. Their vision is based on Christian values. They are specifically aimed at kids and youth, but also offer courses for kids and youth leaders. “They are courses like: ‘how do I deal with kids who have ADHD or autism?’ Or ‘how do I enter into a conversation with children?’”
One of the camps PJV organises is Kidaz camp. The name is an acronym for “children who are different” in Flemish. The camp is aimed at children with a disability, especially mental disabilities, such as autism. It used to be called “Inclusive camp”, and kids would also join other groups. This wasn’t always easy.
Then because of covid, they kept the camp separate from the other groups, and that concept stayed. “For some kids it is better this way, because they can really be in their own group and it makes them feel more comfortable. But I think some kids feel more at home when they can also go to other groups sometimes. It really depends on the kid.”
Naomi tells how she got involved with Kidaz: “I always went to PJV camps as a teen and I also did animator courses with PJV. I study orthopedic pedagogy, so a part of that is about people with disabilities, and the camp appealed to me because of that. At a random moment I applied, and I haven’t left since.”
“I am involved with PJV camps since about 2010. The first camp I did was with a friend, helping in the kitchen. I helped a few more times in the kitchen in other PJV summer camps, but then I heard about Kidaz, and that spoke to me as well,” tells Laureen.
“The camp offers a lot of structure to the kids,” says Laureen. This is possible because Kidaz camp is much smaller than the other camps PJV offers. About 10 to 15 children attend the camp each year. “The smallness of the camp offers the rest that many kids need, because there is less stimulus than in a normal camp.” Each child has their own leader. “This way, the kids can get a lot of attention. They also feel extra loved because of this, because you really have the time to spend time with your kid and give them the attention that they need.”
I think it is really important that kids with a disability feel that they are welcome.”
The vision of Kidaz is that everyone is welcome. “The games are specially designed for the kids. If a kid doesn’t want to do something or finds a game hard, an adjustment is made so that the kid wants to and is able to participate in the game. I think it is really important that kids with a disability feel that they are welcome.”
Kidaz is a Christian camp. You can see this in the stories that are told and the songs that are sung during the camp. “I think the kids can also notice it through the attitude of the leaders, they can see how God is working,” says Laureen. “We also pray a lot, we pray for the kids before they go on camp.
Time with God
Before we wake up the kids, we have time to spend with God and it really helps me,” adds Naomi. “You work with kids with a disability, so not every day is easy. It helps when you can pray for it and get encouraged. We always have a special encouragement night for the leaders. I think when you are fully focused on God, and realize that it is God that works through you, the kids can really feel His love.”
“I think you can always see how God is working through the kids, even if it is something small. It might be through a smile that the kids give you, or through a more open attitude towards you. You can really feel that throughout the week, the kids’ trust in us grows, and they become more open to other kids as well.”
“Kids with a disability have something special. I have seen and learned that those kids are extraordinary. They are different from you and me, and they are not always accepted, but they are allowed to be there. I have seen the beauty in kids with a disability,” tells Laureen. “I have grown a lot as a leader,” Naomi adds.“I have learned that it is not me, but God working through me. Kids with a disability are worth more than gold. They have to offer so much, and that is often overlooked. God is also working through and in them, and He loves them.”
Learn more about PJV here.