PORTLAND, Ore. -- A lot of people say our country has never been more divided than it is now. Different races and ethnicities having a hard time understanding each other. A unique Portland summer camp is teaching kids what makes diversity so much fun, through food and games.
Turnip the Heat Cooking School are week-long camps for kids ages 5 through eighth grade at Bethany Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland.
They started with 17 kids per camp a few years ago and now, it's gotten so popular it's up to 40 kids per camp. They learn about the world, one dish at a time.
"We want this to be nice and cheesy so when you bite into it, yummy cheese!" said Joanna Sooper, founder and teacher at Turnip the Heat Cooking School as she demonstrates how to make Brazilian cheese balls to a group of 12 kids. "And we're going to mix it and I'll show you when it gets sticky."
Getting little hands involved in food is what Sooper designed this camp to be about.
"The trick to making them is melting the cheese inside the ball," said 8-year-old Joel Guimaraes, who is half-Portuguese and makes these cheese balls with his grandfather already at home.
He is loving every day of camp.
"I liked having the pressure of preparing lunch on Monday because we had to make 40 sandwich and 40 salad rolls."
On Monday, Joel and his fellow campers celebrated the country of Vietnam. This day is all about Brazil. It's how Sooper envisioned her idea 7 years ago: Teach kids diversity, by focusing on a different world country each day of her week-long camps.
They create art like Brazilian Carnival masks using paper plates, feathers and sequins in the craft rooms, and learn games and sports popular in that country across the street at Wilshire Park. Each group switches activities through the day so everyone gets to try things.
"I learned that the Vietnamese play games like we do in the U.S., like cat and mouse and capture the flag. And then about Kenya, I learned that one of their great strengths in sports is relay racing," said Guimaraes.
But the most important is making lunch.
"I wanted to come here because I get to learn all about the new country's food and stuff," said 9-year-old Oscar Kohn. "You don't know a lot about it so they're teaching us how to know about foods and what they do in other countries."
Joanna Sooper loves hearing that.
"I feel like this is a great way to dip our finger into all different cultures which I think is important for kids to get exposure to. I think in Oregon, we don't have a super diverse population. I'm not an expert on Kenya, or Brazil but we can expose kids through a flavor, an art style or a game so hopefully as they continue on through life, they're more open to those experiences and trying new things."
On the first day, Sooper starts teaching kids knife techniques, using butter knives so they don't cut themselves. Then the second day they graduate to real knives and by Wednesday, they're cutting thin carrot sticks and rounds. Sooper says, knock on wood, she's never had an injury.
She says the kids eat foods at camp that they would probably never normally try at home.
"We're all about tasting everything, trying it and talking about that this food is someone's favorite food somewhere around the world and we need to give it a try."
On the menu today? Brazilian beef stew with Portuguese sausage, cilantro and black beans, watermelon and carrot sticks, Brazilian tapioca flour cheese balls and a dessert, all handmade by little fingers.
"It's really moving to me to see kids exploring culture through food which I think is really important," Sooper said.
She hears from parents after camp that the kids love helping out in the kitchen now, and want to participate in family dinners more.
It's $220 for a week, that includes all meals and crafts. Camps run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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