Afghan Refugees Get Outside with the Seattle YMCA

Last updated: April 16, 2024, at 7:25 a.m. PT

Originally published: April 15, 2024, at 12:39 p.m. PT

three boys give the peace sign

Our vision for YMCA Camping and Outdoor Leadership programs is that every young person can experience the outdoors in a meaningful way, so when we got the opportunity to help get refugees outside, we jumped at the chance. 

We worked with a dedicated community volunteer to connect a group of Afghan refugees with activities in the Pacific Northwest. We started with a group of 24 Afghan youth and their families who joined Boys and Girls Outdoor Leadership Development (BOLD & GOLD) instructors on two snowshoeing day-trips, learning confidence, teamwork, and forest ecology.

Later in the spring, the group returned, this time for hiking and rock climbing. For many, it was their first outdoor experience in Washington. In fact, it was the first long-distance family outing at all since leaving Afghanistan in 2021 when the Taliban came to power.

“It has been transformational for those who have been lucky and brave enough to participate.” - Volunteer

Then, in the summer, nine youth took a brave step outside their comfort zone, attending overnight programs with BOLD & GOLD at Camp Orkila.

young boy smiling, sitting in a crowd of kids outside

None of these families had ever spent a night apart, let alone an entire week. It was scary for them – but it had a huge impact. One third-grade boy had just completed his first-ever year of school, struggling with English and the culture of American education. He and his siblings sold ice cream in Kabul to support their family before coming to the United States in 2021. He showed up at Camp Orkila with just the shirt on his back, despite receiving the packing list. Orkila staff swung into action, arranging everything he needed, from clothing to a toothbrush. His English improved, even over the course of just one week at Camp Orkila, and he returned home more confident, happier, and ready to take on the challenge of fourth grade.

Word has continued to spread, of transformative, safe, and welcoming outdoor experiences provided by the Y. Recently, 19 Afghan refugee families attended family camps at Camp Orkila and Camp Colman. Our volunteer enthusiastically shared, “On behalf of these kids and their families, I want to express my deepest possible gratitude for making it possible and so incredibly welcoming.”

Learn more about YMCA Camping and Outdoor Leadership programs or make a donation to help support more partnerships like this.

Category: Camp