Archive: Circle at Sunburst Camp

September 1, 2000
By Joni Quintal

This post has been moved from its original location at and archived here, so you can continue to access it.

Each month we share with you a story of how circle is being used effectively in a variety of settings. This month we are a story from Joni Quintal, an elementary school teacher in California, with an important summer job. Thank you, Joni.

I am the Camp Director for Camp Sunburst, which is a summer camp for children living with HIV/AIDS. Last month during our camp session, 12 year old Nikita’s mom died from complications of AIDS, while Nikita was at camp. Nikita has seen the circle working at camp for the past five years. She knows that it sustains us at camp. She knows it is, in part, how we teach each other to be fully human. She asked me to "Call a circle" to honor the passing of her mother.

Nikita’s social worker (Julie) drove 3 hours from San Francisco to our campground to tell Nikita. Nikita was getting a massage when Julie arrived. Several adults walked over to the massage tent and held hands, encircling Nikita as she lay asleep on the massage table. They prayed, sang quietly, smudged Nikita’s body and gently woke her. Julie took Nikita to "Club Med," (our infirmary). I stood outside with a nurse and Nikita’s counselor as Julie told her about her mom. The three of us held hands and visualized the entire community encircling Club Med. I could hear Nikita’s painful cries escape through the walls and windows.

About 15 minutes later the door opened and Nikita asked me to come inside with her. I held Nikita and listened to her talk about her pain, her memories and what she was going to miss about her mom. She said, "Joni, I want you to do something for me. I want you to tell the girls in my cabin about my mom, then I want you to tell everyone else in circle before dinner and then I want you to pray and then I want to sing our "Camp Song." (We have adopted the song by Libby Roderick, "How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful…"). After she told me what she wanted, she looked at me and asked, "Now can I go swimming?"

Nikita took off to the pool and I went to my cabin to think about how to honor Nikita’s requests. As I changed my clothes, I came across a sarong that I brought to give to our Founding Director at the end of camp. The sarong was a beautiful batik with turtles created using blues and greens and yellows. The turtle, Mother Earth, was perfect, and became Nikita's gift.

I wrapped myself in the sarong and headed towards Nikita’s cabin. The girls were all waiting for me. We sat in a circle on the floor and I told the girls about Nikita’s mom. Some cried, some were silent and some shared their own experience of losing a parent to AIDS.

We walked to the Community Circle, where the rest of the camp (105 people) was standing and singing. As we approached the circle, it became very quiet. We entered the circle and everyone held hands. I told the community about Nikita’s mom, one of our staff members prayed, we cried and sang "our song." As we sang, I sent the sarong around so everyone could touch it. Some kissed it, some bowed with it, some hugged it. When it returned to Nikita, I wrapped it around her shoulders and told her that our circle would expand to embrace her as she went home to be with her family. I reminded her she is part of the rim of our circle, the strongest part, and that we would be going with her in spirit.