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In the summer of 2020 and after several months’ frustrations caused by Covid-19 lockdowns, the Pioneer Camp at Thetis Island started to generously host newcomer refugees from Metro Vancouver. Since then, this magnificently beautiful Island has become a dream destination for Afghan, Kurdish, and other newcomers to British Columbia during the summer and fall seasons. The weeklong vacation opportunity for dozens of people, including families, at the Pioneer camp are made possible by the financial support of different partner organizations of Pioneer Camp. The location of Pioneer Camp at the edge of the water, makes it suitable for different kinds of water activities. The camp is well equipped with good accommodation, a large dining area, swimming pool, soccer ground, archery, and many other facilities for indoor and outdoor games and sports. There are also many water activities such as Canoeing, Kayaking, Paddle boat, sailing, etc. Many of the newcomer Afghans and other immigrants to Canada who attended this camp, including myself, for the first time in our lives had the opportunity to experience some of these amazing activities. The number of leisure activities we had the opportunity to experience at the Pioneer Camp would have not been easily possible this soon for majority of us if it wasn’t during our visits to the Thetis Island.

Many of the refugees who have migrated to Canada from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan often face cultural shocks, high levels of stress and depression in the beginning while starting a new life. It’s not straightforward to leave behind everything in your country of origin and start from zero in a new country. However, many of these newcomers have expressed joy and appreciation for their visits to Pioneer Camp as they have found inspiration and Solace while going back with extraordinary memories and strong friendships. In their return, everyone finds themselves more energetic and with many new ideas and support from new friends to deal with their challenges as newcomers. While the pioneer camp is mainly meant to be a place of leisure and vacation, there are cultural exchange opportunities between newcomer immigrants and Canadians. At pioneer camp newcomers were introduced to some very popular traditions in Canada such as the Thanksgiving Day, roasting marshmallows at campfires, storytelling, and cultures of the indigenous people and many more. In exchange, the newcomer immigrants also showcased many of eastern cultures to Canadians at the camp. For instance, the Afghan newcomers to the camp performed Attan (the national dance of Afghanistan), cooked traditional Afghan food of Qabli Palaw (rice and meat cooked with fried raisin and carrots), etc.

Among everything else, one valuable activity, that will probably shape the future of young newcomers in British Columbia is the culture of volunteerism that was very colorful at the camp. I believe volunteerism is among the best ways to connect people with their communities and helps build relationship with professional people too. At the camp, visitors were taking part in the daily tasks along with the staff members of the camp. We all learned what level of effort it really takes to run such a large camp, in addition, our volunteerism at the camp also built sense of belonging with the whole community out there.

During our stay at the camp, we would often tour the whole island to further sense the variety and freshness of the nature across the Thetis Island. The spectacular views at the Pilkey Point in the northern parts of the Island would attract almost everyone at the camp to take pictures as well as see the pioneer camp from another side of the bay. There’s only one small shop in the whole Island and there’s no attendant at that shop. It was very fascinating for me to experience this honor-based shopping for the first time in my life. All customers would buy their groceries, calculate the total amount, drop the same amount (only cash) at the vault, and write a note of what they bought from the shop on a dedicated notebook. There are no police stationed at the Island and less than one thousand residents of the Island are very supportive of one another, and the Island to be kept it safe and clean. During the summer of 2021,  I needed a space to attend a couple of very important online meetings for my university program. Residents of the Island kindly provided me access to the newly built library to use their fast internet. During my visits to the library, I noticed that residents from the Island would come together to discuss development plans and social activities across the Island. It was noticeable from their gatherings at the library that the islanders were mostly taking initiatives themselves as a community rather than waiting for government plans.

I’m confident the camping opportunity at Thetis Island psychologically strengthens the soul and mind of its visitors to deal with complex challenges of life. This particularly relates to newcomers from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan where people have been traumatized due to years of conflict and crisis. Every moment of our back-and-forth trips from Vancouver to Thetis Island were felt with memories and life experiences. Travelling by ferry towards Nanaimo or Victoria and then driving through small towns and one last short ferry trip from the artistic town of Chemainus to rich the destination at Pioneer Camp, we would often enjoy the picturesque sides of BC. The natural glamourous scenes of BC through the waters and lush lands on our way towards the Thetis Island convinced all of us that it’s the absolute right of the province to put “Beautiful British Columbia” on the driving plates of the vehicles. As we desire for another trip to the Pioneer Camp in Thetis Island, we would like to express our gratitude and appreciations for the great hospitality by the staff at the camp as well as the whole community at Thetis Island.

Edrees Kakar is an Afghan-Canadian living in Burnaby, BC for the last 5 years. He has completed a MBA degree at the Simon Fraser university. He is actively engaged with the Afghan community in lower mainland and volunteers to help newcomers integrate in the Canadian society. Edrees can be reached at