Chris Dayeh did up his lifejacket and showed off his canoeing skills as he enjoyed his first ever summer camp after arriving in Canada as a refugee last December.

Fourteen-year-old Dayeh, from Aleppo, Syria, arrived in Canada with his mother and sister, and was given the chance to attend summer camp after his sponsor approached him. Summer camp, for many Canadian kids, is almost seen as a rite of passage.

“The sponsor asked me, ‘You want to go camping?’ I said yes, why not?” said Dayeh.

Multiple camps throughout Ontario offered free spots in their camps to the Ontario Camps Association this summer. The association then matched refugee kids between the ages of 4-15 to camps that they wanted to attend, for free.

Kids were able to choose from day and overnight camps, one week and multi-week camps and different activity-specific camps. Dayeh chose an overnight summer camp near Parry Sound, Ont., giving him a chance to learn how to canoe and play different sports like basketball and volleyball.

“That’s the first time I canoe,” said Dayeh. “It’s so fun.”

Dayeh shared a cabin with other campers, taking part in team-building activities, such as climbing over walls, and trying new foods like chicken fingers and hot dogs. According to other campers, they saw a change in Dayeh in just a week of being at the camp.

“His confidence level has just risen tremendously and that’s what camp does for everybody. It doesn’t matter who it is, that’s the beauty of camp,” said Mark Diamond, the camp director.

According to Dayeh, he made more friends at camp than he did during his half year at school. He also hopes that more refugee children will take advantage of the Ontario summer camp program and get to experience what he did.

Now, Dayeh said, Canada has become his home.

With a report from CTV’s John Vennavally-Rao