This summer, thousands of Canadian kids are once again at traditional camps, singing “Kumbaya” and crafting art from uncooked macaroni. However, an “adventure camp” just outside of Toronto is aiming at removing the canoe paddles from the hands of children and replacing them with AK-47s.
Camp Okutta counsellors hit the pavement downtown last week handing out brochures for the wilderness getaway, which aims to teach kids the “art of war.” Ads posted to utility poles boasted briefings on grenade throwing and minefield navigation. A promotional clip for Camp Okutta (right) shows children ranging from ages 8–12 strolling along nature trails and sitting around campfires, but also toting automatic rifles.
“I’m proud to say that at Camp Okutta, we have the best training facility outside a war zone,” says Okutta counsellor Ryan. “They have tons of fun, and it’s all about the experience.”
Parents are invited to register their children at the camp’s website, which outlines some of the other shocking activities available to attendees. At an infirmary, kids are treated pharmaceutically to suppress fear (and homesickness), and the food served at the mess hall basically consists either of plain white rice or the collected scraps left behind by the camp’s adult staff.
Despite the idyllic setting, the camp has come under fire for its alarming practices and the frequent injuries incurred by attendees. Some days the children don’t eat at all, and both physical and sexual abuse by camp leaders has been rampant. Amphetamines were administered seemingly to ensure compliance with the dangerous activities. Plus, most Canadians find the idea of a child wielding an AK-47 to be incredibly repellent.
Outraged? That’s the point. Camp Okutta is a fictional creation of Toronto-based organization War Child Canada, which launched the campaign to raise awareness of the very young victims of armed conflict worldwide.
Though the images presented in Camp Okutta materials are alien and abominable to Canadians, they’re the realities faced by children living in the world’s war-torn areas. In countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Afghanistan, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and Iraq, many kids are forced into fighting for violent militias.
“While these issues are not new, we hope that this campaign will resonate with Canadians in a new way,” says Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder and Executive Director of War Child Canada. “These aren’t the stereotypical images of children in war intended to promote sympathy. These are images that make you stop and go, ‘that’s just not right.'”
Non-profit War Child Canada is known for their campaigns in high schools across the country and via MuchMusic specials like Musicians In The War Zone and Rocked: Sum 41 in Congo. The organization appeals to Canadian youth with the co-operation of artists like Avril Lavigne, Feist, Metric, Chantal Kreviazuk, Billy Talent, and Jully Black, and the non-profit has provided support for vulnerable international communities and worked as an advocate of children’s rights since its inception in 1999.
The pro bono Camp Okutta campaign was created in conjunction with Toronto ad agency john st. War Child points out that children are victims of more than thirty armed conflicts across the globe, and that the edgy idea was intended to inform rather than offend.