As the uni year wraps up and NCEA exams come to a close, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on how we’ve spent our last year. There’s no doubt that for the majority of us, a large part of our year – even each individual day – is spent digitally connected, be it in school, at work or at home. A large number of us also spend a huge amount of time in the city, and even if we don’t necessarily work or study in the City Central, the neighbourhoods and suburbs we live in can be as rushed and jammed as the cities themselves. Life in 2016 can bring its own set of pressures, and while we have a tendency to stop and reflect on the year with a, “wow, what just happened,” it’s undeniable that every year has its own set of political dramas, human rights movements and international turmoil. For these reasons, we want to reiterate the importance of taking a step back, and getting out of the city for a bit. Our teens may not be directly faced with the aforementioned confrontations every waking minutes, but that’s not to say they don’t have their own set of pressures weighing down on them.

My first camp was as a madricha, having never been aware of Habo until I’d been out of school for two years. I was in the middle of a 7-day work-week summer, and while I was enjoying juggling three jobs, it did mean that I was constantly connected to my mobile devices. Imagine my surprise, not at the lack of reception upon arrival at the campsite, but my surprise by just how satisfied I felt upon discovering the lack of reception. Within that three hour drive (camp will be closer this year, promise,) the whole world shrunk down to the tents, the farmland, and the twenty madrichim with whom I would be sharing the next few weeks. Everything became so much simpler, and priorities switched to building tents, digging holes and forming real connections with people. We’re seeing a proliferation in schools, even from a young age, of the importance places on constant connectivity; Bring Your Own Device programs allows curriculum to grow and gives our students much greater access to information, and while this is definitely useful, our yearly machanot give chanichim a chance to switch off from all of that. Chanichim are encouraged to focus on real-time conversations, create their own humour rather than base their jokes on memes, and lets them explore their opinions, free of the influence of billions of strangers. They are encouraged to entertain themselves free of newsfeeds, and have no choice but to look up and engage!

In addition to the growing importance placed on constant connectivity, there’s also a growing importance placed on being in the thick of things physically. Having grown up in a city almost my entire life, there’s something jolting about being thrown into an open field, in a bowl surrounded by trees where the stars are visible at night and people’s appreciation of nature comes to light. Personally, I think it’s hugely important for our chanichim to experience a total immersion in a natural environment, as a contrast to the lives they live in city centrals. While the days are still structured and we still instil time periods throughout, there are no ringing bells to signal where they should be at what time, no traffic jams, no homework and no hanging obligations that carry over from one day to the next. All we expect from our chanichim is to look after one another, play games and reflect on the lessons we try to pass on.

While we don’t pretend that camp is without its challenges, we do acknowledge that it gives our chanichim a break from the challenges they might face in their daily lives. Bigger and greater pressures are being placed on our kids every year (one of my babies in Shtillim told me the other day that he was in the middle of exams??) and one of our biggest aims is to give chanichim a break from daily worries. Technology and city life can bring with it its own set of worries for each individual, and while we don’t hope to be able to protect our kids from the real world, we do want to be able to tell them that this is a space where they are loved and protected. We think it’s important for the chanichim to get away from the pace of life they might normally live, and have some time to breathe in some fresh air, learn more about themselves, and practice independence and interdependence, in an environment where the only traffic jam might be a queue at the toilets.