Tackling Fears. Engaging Nature.

Updated: Feb 24

Last month, Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge - REACH had its first extended sleep-away camping trip. It was the culmination of an entire summer of adventures. Finally, we could enjoy the outdoors for a few consecutive days without worrying about a bus to catch! Some new boys joined us on the trip. Even though this was their first exposure to REACH, they were very excited about camp and quickly became part of the group. But one of them was terrified of water. He had never been in a canoe or kayak before and did not know how to swim. The activity our first afternoon was a river walk. Everyone climbed out onto a wire bridge (two wires suspended over the water) and then jumped in. After many belly flops, all the kids were in the water. Except our new youth participant who I will call “H”. Instead of jumping, he slowly slid down the steep river bank with the help of some very patient camp counselors (adult REACH volunteers), and then clung nervously to an inner tube. After at least twenty minutes of cajoling, he managed to get into the middle of the river and slowly start floating downstream. But this was too much for him and a rescue was arranged with a canoe.

After this stressful event, I thought H was finished trying water sports. But the next day, we managed to get him into a canoe with me and two other boys. It was a tight squeeze, but our canoe made it into the middle of the river. H started protesting immediately: “I don’t know if I like this.”

The other kids splashing around our canoe only made him more fearful. Another camp counselor, not seeing the frightened look on H.’s face, pretended to flip our canoe over. That was it – H was done.

We went back to shore and he got out. The other boys and I paddled around and after a while, they jumped out of the boat so they could play on the paddle boards with the other kids. I looked up to see H waving at me from the shore. I waved back. He called to me, “Hey! Can I get back on?”

“Are you sure?!” I shouted back, and he assured me that he was. I met him at the shore and then I moved to the back of the boat so he could sit in front. We kept the boat close to the shore and away from the other kids. Slowly H started to relax. “Hey Emily, I’m actually not that scared!” I could tell he was actually having fun!

We paddled along, watching the other kids and looking around for dragonflies. I taught him how to hold the paddle and which side to paddle on. But when waves rocked the boat he stopped paddling and looked around fearfully. I told him to sit still. I said I was going to rock the boat and promised he wouldn’t fall in. He sat, and I slowly tipped the boat from side to side. “See? It’s not that bad.” He nodded, and we continued around the river pond towards Shana who took a photo of us as we approached. H’s expression was captured perfectly. Pure determination, bravery, and pride in himself. I was immensely proud of him, too. He went way out of his comfort zone and discovered joy in being out on the water.

Last week, on our last REACH outing, H and I chatted as we walked through the park. He told me he had just called his mother, who told him she was charging the laptop so that he could watch his favorite show when he got home. I laughed at this story and asked him which he liked better – watching TV or being outside. Without hesitating, he stated – “being outside!”

This is why I love volunteering with REACH. These kids are constantly conquering their fears and doing things they never thought they could do. I see so much potential in them. There’s nothing better than seeing them realize it in themselves, too.

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