In summer 2005, Sarah and Noah Matoo had an idea to help out some of the youth in Coral Harbour.
They had noticed a lot of youth were getting into trouble and “just kind of floating around” in the community with no obligations, so the husband-and-wife pair figured they could take about 10 of them to their camp, teach them how to fish, make pipsi and stay out of trouble.
By the time the camp weekend was coming up, the Matoos had 52 youth signed up to join. They had no way to accommodate all that interest, so volunteers in the community stepped right up to provide all the camping equipment, food, mattresses and Coleman stoves they could need, even letting youth stay in their cabins to sleep.
“There was a lot of healing being done,” remembers Sarah Matoo about that first camp. “They were talking, sharing, letting things go at the camp.”
It was initially going to be a weekend venture, but the group decided to stay an extra day – even though it wasn’t a long weekend – to continue the experience.
Since then, it’s become a staple of the community, with the Matoos fundraising for the celebration camp and running it each summer they can afford to. It has also become a six-day journey, full of games, counselling, time on the land, sharing, talent shows and challenges.
“There’s a balance,” said Matoo about the activities at camp. “We do a lot of talking, a lot of self-esteem building.”
And at the end of it, the Matoos walk with the youth all the way back to Coral Harbour – more than 42 kilometres, “just to show the kids that no matter how hard things get, you’re going to make your destination.”
“They’re bleeding, there’s blisters and limping, and even me, I’m having a hard time finishing the walk now because of my age and bum knee, but we make the walk,” said Sarah.
Noah Matoo, she said, came up with a ‘catwalk’ challenge where youth had to strut in front of their peers down a catwalk like a fashion model.
“I couldn’t believe that he came up with that, because he was one of the most shyest people I had ever met,” said Sarah. “He told me that if somebody had done that push for him, maybe he wouldn’t have been so shy for that long.”
That philosophy extends to the talent show, where youth have to put on some sort of act by the end of the camp.
Sarah said the camps are even helpful for herself, as the sharing people do helps the lighten the load for everyone.
“All the problems you thought you had are no longer huge like you thought they were in your own house,” she said about hearing what other people are going through.
As the Matoos prepare for another camp this month, Sarah encourages anyone with an idea that could benefit their community to pursue it.
“I think we all have some need for healing in one way or another,” she said. “And we didn’t know what we were stumbling into when we decided we were going to take those 10 kids to our camp. What became of this camp is something that we’ve never really even comprehended that it would happen that way, but it did, and it’s got a life of its own. Sometimes things we didn’t even expect to happen happen, and it’s always way better than what we anticipated.”