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A Magical Adoption Experience

Hands Around the World Southeast Asian Culture Camp

By Cherie Jones Das

My children and I have attended the Hands Around The World Culture Camps for 15 years and it has been an amazing, astounding, and magical experience!

I truly believe my daughters (currently ages 14 and 18) now take pride in who they are partly as a result of the experiences they each had while at camp.

I too have gained in so many ways from being involved at camp. One of the benefits has been my learning about not only my daughters' cultures, but also about the other cultures represented at the camps.

Every year, Hands Around The World hosts a Southeast Asia Culture Camp and every year you can see happy children having a great time! It is so awesome to watch as the kids renew their friendships from the previous year and learn more about their rich heritages. The curriculum is always full of activities related to Vietnamese culture since usually many of the children in the camp were adopted from Vietnam. I'd like to share with you some of the images of past Southeast Asian camps.

One year, the campers made a 30 foot python snake which they paraded into Friday's Grand Finale! At the Finale, I couldn't' take my eyes off an older boy as he proudly showed off his Vietnamese costume. Another year, the children all came to the Finale joyfully waving the windsocks they had cut, colored and pasted with the national colors and emblems. Crafts are a favorite activity, and often they are fairly intricate like the Vietnamese model houses on stilts and the sampan boats that campers made. Two years ago, the children learned about how rice is grown. They performed a short musical skit where they acted out the process of planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting rice. One child wore a cardboard cut-out water buffalo costume and the others all wore no'n ba'i, traditional conical hats that they had created. The year before that, campers learned about Tet Nguyen. They made paper "firecrackers" and cut open a watermelon hoping it would be very red inside, a sign of good luck. They were not disappointed - it was deep red! Each year, the children learn some Vietnamese words and cook and/or eat Vietnamese food. Last year campers fried shrimp chips or Banh Phong Tom, a common snack. They were pretty good! Each year, all the Hands Around The World camps try to provide adult mentors for our children to look up to, and the Southeast Asian camp is no different. For example, one year we hosted a Vietnamese woman who told about living in Vietnam. As she talked, she displayed different items she had brought and the children were fascinated!

I really believe that one of the most important tasks we have as adoptive parents is to help our children to grow up with a positive identity and good self-esteem. Studies have shown that transculturally and transracially adopted children need to feel a connection to their birth country and a sense of pride in their heritage in order to develop a positive identity. In one magical week of Culture Camp, we can begin to give our children the tools they need to feel positive about their cultural heritage!

The Hands Around The World camps, including the Southeast Asian Culture Camp, is held each year in July in Roselle, Illinois, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, Illinois. For families who have children from various cultural backgrounds, Hands Around The World offers several camps concurrently, so all the children in the family may participate in a camp for their own heritage. Biological siblings may enroll in any camp. The camps offered are: African American, China, Eastern Europe, Korea, Latin American, Southeast Asian, and the Cutting Edge, a multicultural camp for teens. In addition, there are two programs, Rainbow Babies and the Safari Toddler Program, for the younger siblings (ages 0-4) of campers whose parents volunteer at camp. Finally, the camp arranges for a local hotel to give a reduced rate to out of town families. For more information and for registration, check out the Hands Around The World website at

More Information: Current Vietnam Adoption Culture Camp events and dates provided on the Families with Children from Vietnam website.

Cherie Jones Das sits on the Hands Around The World Board and has coordinated programs, developed curriculum and taught at their culture camps. She taught Arts and Crafts at the camp for 12 years. She also is a licensed clinical social worker and the International Adoption Coordinator for Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois. She is married and is the adoptive mother of two daughters.

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