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Israelis take kids back to the eCamp future

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On March 9, 2008 @ 9:38 am In | No Comments

eCamp founder Nir Kouris: The kids will put their hands on the hottest new software.Eating s’mores by the campfire, singsongs, and the first kiss might be memories some of us have from the old days at summer camp. Combine these with workshops in 3D animation, tours of computer chip companies like Intel, a meeting with Israel’s electric car guru Shay Agassi and you’ll get eCamp Israel.

Appealing to foreign English-speaking children ages 10 to 18, eCamp founders Nir Kouris and Dotan Tamir, both veteran camp counselors and high-techies, decided to build an international summer camp for kids, with an emphasis on computers, gadgets and high-tech.

Except for Silicon Valley, Israel is home to the largest number of start up high-tech companies and entrepreneurs in the world. Kouris saw this as an opportunity and two years ago started building eCamp to be launched this year during Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Two sessions this summer, each two weeks in length, are expected to draw a total of about 300 kids to Israel. Although the emphasis will be high-tech and computers, the camp will be set in the heart of a nature reserve at the residential village of Aloney Yitzchak, about 30 miles from Tel Aviv.

Kids will be slotted into groups depending on their age and in the spirit of old-fashioned summer camp the groups will become ‘kilobytes,’ ‘megabytes’ or ‘gigabytes.’

The program of activities at eCamp will make any tech-lover jealous: there will be tours of multinational companies in Israel, workshops for developing mobile games, and the campers will even get to beta test new technology. “They will get to put their hands on the hottest new software,” says Kouris. “Many of these things are not yet available for adults.”

Campers will also get a chance to take part in a unique Google Gadgets Developers workshop hosted by Google Israel. And they will get to build their own Wifi-like wireless game controllers and take them home, adds Kouris, whose grand plan has stoked the curiosity of parents who have asked to join in on some of the activities.

Participants will also visit academic high-tech centers of excellence such as the Technion Israel Institute for Technology and the Weizmann Institute. The will even try their hand in training on Israel’s Air Force flight simulator.

Kouris not long ago was in the US to inspire kids to make the trip to Israel this summer. The fees of eCamp are a bit hefty (about $2,000) he reports, but comparable to the prices of camp in America, he reasons, minus the plane ticket. Locally he is appealing to companies to foot the bill and provide scholarships to Israelis, and possibly Palestinian kids will be able to come in the next years.

At first, Kouris thought the camp would appeal most to American Jewish kids. But to his surprise, inquiries have already come in from places such as China and India.

“As long as they don’t mind Jewish customs such as Shabbat, they’re welcome,” notes Kouris, explaining that traditional Jewish values will be a part of the eCamp atmosphere.

A private venture, eCamp Israel is being conducted in partnership with Oranim Educational Initiatives (Taglit), and will be like no other camp in the world, promises its organizers.

“We believe that technology is the language of today,” explains Kouris. “We want to bring all these possibilities to the mainstream.”

Each camper chooses different camp components, and parents shouldn’t worry about exercise. One out of three activities must include a module like swimming or basketball. And of course, says Kouris, there will be typical camp activities such as campfires and sing-a-longs.