READFIELD — As Hossein Mousavi shook his head Wednesday afternoon, trying to dislodge the lake water that had gotten into his ears just minutes before, he suddenly looked to the right.

“There’s a dog,” he told Mike Griswold, the director of Camp KV, a summer program on the wooded shores of Maranacook Lake.

Hossein, aged 7, had just been swimming, and he now wore a navy blue sweatshirt featuring the Superman logo. He was sitting opposite Griswold at a picnic table, and the camp director swiveled his head to the left, failing to see the dog.

“I got you!” the boy exclaimed.

The banter of children on a hot summer day wasn’t new for Hossein, or his friend and fellow camper, Muhib Aryaie, who also was sitting at the table. The latter wore a Spider-Man baseball cap and quickly got in on the joke, telling Griswold that an eagle and a zombie also were moving through the woods, and chuckling when the camp director looked for them.

The boys were attending Camp KV this week as part of a program for immigrants to the Augusta area. About 50 families who have been displaced by unrest in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have settled here, and a group calling itself the Capital Area New Mainers Project has formed to help welcome and integrate them.

With funds raised by that group, more than 15 children are attending various summer programs around Augusta, including Camp KV and Julia Clukey’s Camp for Girls, both of which are run by the Kennebec Valley YMCA in the Readfield location. The children also are attending the Children’s Discovery Museum in Augusta and other YMCA programs.

“A lot of families were asking, ‘What’s happening in summer? School’s going to be out. What can we do for kids in summer?'” said Chris Myers Asch, a coordinator of the group. Then someone asked, “‘Wouldn’t it be great if the kids were going to summer camp?’ They might go to Camp KV, or soccer camp or art camp. There’s a gazillion camps. It’s something that American parents understand and embrace, a rite of passage of summer. You go to camp and have a great time, but that’s just not on the radar screen for immigrant families.”

For both Hossein and Muhib, the setting was a change. Neither had partaken in the American tradition until this year. The skits, the games with names such as four square and Mafia, the shady paths lined with handpainted rocks, the easy access to a body of water, the young lifeguards with whistles at the ready: all was new to them.

After Hossein’s mother fled war-torn Afghanistan, he grew up in Iran and Turkey and settled in Maine in the last year. Muhib’s family also comes from Afghanistan and spent time in Pakistan before coming to the United States, he said Wednesday.

Both boys now live in Augusta and attend Farrington Elementary School. During an interview, they both said they like swimming and soccer. After swimming, Muhib was slow to put his sneakers on, and at one point placed his hand in his sock, waving it around like a puppet.

“It’s like Cookie Monster,” Hossein said, referring to the Sesame Street character.

“Is your sock stinky?” asked Griswold, continuing the banter.

Working with the Capital Area New Mainers Project, the summer programs have had to make some small adjustments, said Griswold, who directs both Camp KV and Julia Clukey’s Camp.

Because many of the participants speak limited English, the camp has started providing illustrations when the children choose which activities they want to participate in.

One camp session was held during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. To make sure the campers didn’t lose their energy, the staff made sure they didn’t participate in the most strenuous activities, Griswold said.

The children also have brought diversity to the camp experience, which Griswold and others said they appreciate.

“It’s been pretty easy, easier than I was anticipating,” said Emily Simonton, the counselor of Hossein and Muhib’s group, of working with the new Mainers. “I was afraid of the translation part of it, but (the campers) have been very receptive. It’s fun to see.”

Some of the campers from Maine have made a concerted effort to pronounce both boys’ names correctly, which Simonton said she particularly appreciated. Asked which activities the two boys liked most, Simonton’s answer came quickly.

“They really like swimming,” she said. “They’re like fish.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.