More than 9,000 children have registered to attend Government’s free National Summer Camp Programme.

This disclosure was made today by Minister of Youth, Family and Sports,??Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, who noted that Government had originally budgeted for 7,000 children, but had to revise the numbers because of the overwhelming response to the 70 camps.

"The increase in numbers was definitely a logistical problem and the Ministry worked around the clock to accommodate them. We had to look at each camp individually, determine if the venue could house those persons, and where the nearest venues could not accommodate the campers, we had to then reassign them to nearby camps.

"We also had to provide adequate adult supervision for the children. So, because of the numbers, some of the camps had to have an additional assistant director. But, in most cases, we had to provide more camp counsellors to help with the supervision, so we now have one counsellor to 10 to 15 children," Dr. Byer Suckoo explained.

She said that "apart from the usual logistical problems", the first two days of camp "ran smoothly", with minor issues being sorted out. She pointed out that some of the directors did not begin their structured programming on Monday, the first day of camp, because they had to deal with "settling in" issues, while others reported that their campers had engaged in a number of fun activities. She added that almost all of the lunches were delivered satisfactorily on the first day, but there were "one or two" camps which had challenges. "Yesterday was a great improvement and I did not hear any reports of problems with the provision of lunches," she stated.

The Minister continued: "I think right now our major challenges are behind us. Most of the start-up money for the camps has been sorted out, except in five cases where the directors did not submit complete information. They have been contacted by the bank to complete that information… The bank has received the start-up money to be lodged on the accounts, so everybody will get their funds, and again the plan is to continue to pay the money in tranches. We were also able to arrange for the caterers to have a mobilisation fee as well, so that would help them with the initial costs of providing the lunches."

Meanwhile, the Israel Lovell Foundation and the Pinelands Cultural camps have been removed from Government’s Summer Camp Programme. Dr. Byer Suckoo explained that after being approved by Government, Pinelands indicated that its camp was a specialised one. "That does not fall within the ambit of the National Camp Programme, because ours is dealing with children ages four to 15, and offering a wide-range of activities, including culture… So, Pinelands is not on the programme, but it has received funding from other Government departments to be able to carry out its programme," she said.

In the case of the Israel Lovell Foundation, she stated that there were repeated challenges with directors and other persons associated with the camp. "We have tried over the course of the last two weeks to iron out those difficulties and so you would have heard that the camp was on again and off again…," she revealed.

According to her, an almost untenable situation developed on Monday which remained unresolved, and as a result, the Ministry decided it was best for that camp to be taken off the list. However, she stressed that arrangements were being put in place for those children whose parents preferred them to be in Government’s "exciting" free programme, so they could be accommodated at another camp.

Minister Byer Suckoo toured several of the camps today and she will continue visiting others over the coming two weeks. National Coordinator, Hamilton Lashley, the Youth Commissioners and other officers have also been visiting the camps.

This is, by far, Government’s largest camp programme to date, and the Minister described it as "a godsend for parents". She promised that the authorities would continue to monitor and supervise the camps and give the necessary guidance and assistance. "We will remain on top of the programme because the children in these camps are our responsibility," she re-assured the public.

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