Benjamins spark wonder in children

Campers are enchanted and educated at Sense of Wonder camp.

Sense of Wonder campers show their excitement about their hard week of work! — Madeleine Moore

Cha, cha, cha. Cha, cha, cha. Cha, cha, cha. The sounds of glittery gourds echoed throughout Grove Avenue in Vineyard Haven during a recent visit to Sense of Wonder day camp. Flashes of tie-dye flew before your eyes as children sprinted back and forth from art room to a climbing tree. Bells chimed in the air as everyone warmed up for the big performance. Welcome to the Sense of Wonder camp.

The Sense of Wonder Camp was established in the summer of 1991 by Pam Benjamin to create a space where children can develop their creative talents and learn about the world around them and beyond.

“The camp is like no other,” said camp counselor Ryan Scherer, who has been involved with the Sense of Wonder camp since she was 6 years old. “Everyone has their own job and the love and the energy is always there.”

Each week the camp has a different theme, and this particular week that we visited was focused on cultural diversity and music. Kids made a variety of musical instruments, including maracas made out of gourds, shoebox guitars, and tin-can drums. “You can really express yourself,” said 12-year-old camper Ella Luening.

The campers not only engaged with the instrumental side of music, but also with song and dance. Godfrey Muwulya, a frequent visitor to the Island and a native of Uganda, took two days to teach the campers a traditional dance of Central Uganda, known as Bakisimba, originating from the tribe of Baganda.

Campers enjoy the outdoors before the big show.

“The dance is a royal dance that is performed every time you see royal ladies,” said Mr. Muwulya. Along with the dance, Mr. Muwulya brought boxes of traditional costumes to wear from Uganda. The costumes consisted of a bright, patterned skirt with an akaliba — animal skin typically from a goat — attached to it, and ankle bells. Dancers wear these skins and bells to exaggerate hip and ankle movements. “I teach the biography of the dance and the significance of the costume,” Mr. Muwulya said. Campers gleefully jumped around, shaking their hips, feet, and arms to the rhythm of the music and the direction of Mr. Muwulya.

In addition to the dance, camp counselor Yolani Doddy, a year-round resident originally from the Marshall Islands, wrote and performed a song in her native language of Marshallese on the ukelele for the children. “The song is about friendship, and even though you are far away does not mean a friendship has to end,” said Ms. Doddy.

The colorful and homemade maracas, drums, and guitars of the campers.

The campers were able to stretch their creative muscles and create a song of their own. “Each camper contributed at least one word, and some contributed a whole phrase,” said Lenston Daugherty III, a camp counselor of seven years. The campers swung back and forth with their counselors, while singing about friendship and unity. The lyrics “down with racism, we can all be friends” carried through the breeze and spread through the neighborhood.

As of now, Ms. Benjamin and Mr. Muwulya look forward to future expansion of the Sense of Wonder organization. “We are trying to open a Sense of Wonder school for the children of Uganda from poor backgrounds,” said Mr. Muwulya, who has already established a small school of 20 children in Uganda. “I want to create, not job seekers, but job creators.”