Beauty in diversity

Sense of Wonder summer campers celebrate the end of the session together.

Campers practicing dance led by Godfrey Muwulya from Uganda. — Lynn Christoffers

Sense of Wonder’s summer camp final celebration is enough to make everyone want to be a kid again — or to have one who is a camper. On a bright, sunny afternoon last Friday, I joined parents in wicker chairs in a semicircle on the large, lush back lawn for the festivities.

Founder and director Pam Benjamin set the stage by sharing her belief that art is the basis of human expression, and the creative arts are inside all of us. The performances were a testimony as well to her commitment to helping kids discover and appreciate the environmental beauty and ethnical diversity of the world — and to become closer to it and learn how to love and care for it.

The performance was the culmination of a week in which the campers and counselors had been dancing, singing, playing African and Haitian drum rhythms with Ugandan Godfrey Muwulya and Islander Rick Bausman; writing a play; drawing every morning; fabricating papier-mâché creatures; creating clay sculptures with Bulgarian sculptor Tsetsi Stoyanov; decorating African-designed masks; sewing stuffed animals, pillows, and other puffy creations, all celebrating diversity. “We focus on cultural diversity hoping the kids will be more willing to be accepting of people from different cultures,” Benjamin said.

First up on the docket was a play by campers, counselors-in-training, and head counselors Sean Hogue and Leslie Field, who had helped the kids formulate the plot and script. The inventive play about environmental concerns opened with the individual “animals,” including a dog, kitty, tiger, turkey, lion, and more, on an imaginary ship in 2030 bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t sail because the plastic and pollution-filled seas had locked them in. The solution — enter the painted, cardboard-constructed time machine and dial back to 2019, where they traveled to different countries to find solutions. In Italy they were told to pick up your trash, in China to donate your toys, and in Ireland to employ reusable containers. The solutions they discovered brought about clean oceans and smooth sailing once they returned through the time machine to 2030.

Twelve-year-old Brooke Roten sang “Martha’s Vineyard,” which she wrote about opening her eyes and seeing a beautiful place all around her. “I looked out a window to the beach, and I thought it was not just a view, it’s something that means something to me, so I just put it in a song,” she told me. 

The singing continued with campers and counselors performing a song they wrote, “Boomerang Effect,” which included the chorus lyrics “Give kindness and you’ll receive it. It’s a domino effect. Compassion is a boomerang to help us all connect.” The second piece, “Look at Me” was about all different ethnicities, with the chorus “Look at me and you’ll see a snippet into history. Look at me and you’ll see the beauty of my ancestry.” 

“The more you understand and become familiar with a different culture, the more you’re willing to get to know somebody,” Benjamin said.

Next, all the campers and counselors, after only a week of practice, performed an exuberant 22-drum and East African dance piece topped off with a rousing solo by Muwulya in full traditional African clothing.

Before I left, I made my way to Benjamin amid everyone saying their good-byes, and asked what she thought of the culminating event: “Oh, it was fabulous! It all worked out beautifully.”