For Syrian families adjusting to life in the United States, some aspects of American life can seem strange or unusual. One of those things is sleepaway camp, but that did not stop fifteen brave Syrian girls from giving it a try (and loving it!) this month. Through a partnership with an amazing organization called Girls Rock! Santa Barbara, SCN – San Diego was able to send these children, ages nine to fourteen, to a weeklong camp focused on music education, creative expression, and confidence building for girls.

Amplify Sleepaway Camp is in Ojai, California, about four hours north of El Cajon. The camp works to empower girls and women through music education, creative expression, and performance. They offer five separate tracks for campers to choose from: Rock Band, Film & Photography, Journalism & Creative Writing, Music Production & Engineering, and a DJ track. Girls also enjoyed swimming, karaoke, movie nights, and games with their new friends. The last day of camp ended with a showcase of their music and photography in front of parents and friends.

Amplify welcomes a diverse group of campers every year from around the world, and also offers generous financial aid, hoping to empower and include girls from all backgrounds. All fifteen Syrian girls were able to attend the camp on full scholarships.

One of the most unique aspects of the camp is the sense of belonging and inclusion it works hard to create. Many parents were nervous for their young daughters to spend an entire week away from home, especially after all they had endured in Syria and as refugees in other countries.

Marwa, whose eleven-year-old daughter Salma attended the camp and chose the Rock Band track, said “At first, I was scared [to send my daughter to camp], but after talking to Salma when she came home, I felt really happy about it. Her brothers are now begging for a similar experience, and Salma is really looking forward to going to camp again next year.”

Salma had been using YouTube videos to teach herself to play the keyboard, and took the opportunity at camp to learn the drums.

“My favorite moment of camp was when I played the drums for the very first time, because I had never done that before!”

Salma, age 11

Ahlam, who sent her two daughters Ahed, 13, and Hala, 10, to camp, said that “The girls were so happy and had such a fun time. They hope to go back and participate again next year because they really enjoyed getting the experience to sing, which they’d never done before. It was a beautiful experience for the girls. Thank you to everyone who contributed in making our kids so happy.”

On the last day of camp, all 15 girls proudly shared their photography, played drums, keyboard, and guitar, and sang in front of a packed room of family and friends. Sidrah, who presented her nature photography and sang a song in Arabic, remembers the showcase as her favorite part of camp.

“I felt so proud of myself in that moment — I was a little scared, because it was my first time singing in front of other people, but I calmed myself down and then I loved it. I felt really confident and free there, and I can’t wait to go back next year.”