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The summer is over, and school begins. It is great when you have summer memories to cherish in fall. Village children who visited a tent camp within the Klubok Project are sure to remember this summer as the most amazing and unusual season in their lives. When they meet me, they still ask: “Will we go there again? Maybe registration for the next season is open already?”
Well, I will try to tell you everything step by step.
I learned about The Happy Child Foundation almost by accident. I was just surfing the Internet, followed some link, and there it was – an amazing website created by people who cared. I ended up reading the articles by Iryna and Albert deep into the night and couldn’t keep myself from crying when I learned about the hardships some children have to face. So I got registered at the website.
Then as a correspondent I got an invitation to visit a tent camp for children based in Vasilyevka. I called to ask if I could take my children with me for the press conference. And Albert offered to bring my daughter to the camp to see the life of the camp from the inside.
So my daughter (who was 9 at that moment) liked her experience there very much, though it was her first “independent” trip without her mom being next to her. When my little Veronika told about her camping trip to the children from our village, everybody envied her. You see, rural children do not often have a chance to travel. What are the reasons for that? Unemployment in Ukrainian villages leads to poverty. Besides, parents do not take good care of the leisure activities for their children, thinking that they live in the village and so enjoy a lot of outdoor activities anyway. Many mothers, who would love to provide traveling opportunities to their little ones, complained that nowadays it is very difficult to get subsidies for children to go to a camp, and paying full price for them is not real.
So you see that leisure activities in our rural area are scarce or even unavailable. I know my story is taking a different direction, but I just want to explain the situation and tell why the job the Foundation does is so important.
It happened that our family lived in one of the villages in the Chernigovka district for almost two years. There is no community center in the village, no hobby groups, and no kindergartens. In three neighboring villages there is only one school, having at least a stadium. Nevertheless, even in the smallest village there are a couple of local boozers where grown-ups spend all their free time. And most children do not see any examples of normal community activities, quality ways of spending leisure time. Doing hard work, drinking vodka, playing cards, and watching TV in the evening – this is what life looks like to them.
First of all, to entertain my own children and also get other rural residents involved, I organized a theater for children. We had the Cinderella performance presented at the celebration of the Day of the Village and even brought it to the neighboring village. And this way we got a theater group which was eagerly attended by children. Besides, we wanted to make children go in for sports. So we made an arrangement with some other parents and decided to take turns to drive our children to the district center for wrestling and dancing classes. You see, we tried to do at least something. Some of our neighbors were happy about those initiatives, while others were looking at me as if I was insane: “Why are you doing all this?”
I mean, if you abuse alcohol, just hang out, not having a job, and have arguments with other village residents – it is considered usual, but if you try to do something useful, they think you are weird…
So anyway, when I learned about the Klubok Project, I decided to arrange a trip for those who attend our theater group as well as other children from low-income families.
Unfortunately, some parents refused to send their children to the tent camp, even though I told it was free of charge. I kept asking myself – why?
My local friends explained it to me: “Why are you surprised? They need to prepare some clean clothes for their little ones, help children to get packed, tidy them up, get a health certificate from a doctor – and when will they do all that if they are drinking all the time?”
Getting those health certificates is another story as some children had to go to the district center or another village to see a doctor. So their parents had to get themselves into some trouble, but it was even good as they finally felt they had some responsibility. Though there were parents who said that if they had to go to the district center to get a certificate, they would prefer their children staying at home.
Then we had to decide how to transport children from Chernigovka to Ukrayinka village?
The Head of our Village Council refused to help us, telling that he had no money for the gasoline, that he still had to pay to the transport company for our school bus, and that his priority was taking the village team to a soccer match.
So I went to the district center. The new Vice Head of the District Administration gave his instructions to the relevant authorities. It is very good that we have a young and active Head of the Center of Social Services for Family, Children and Youth, Ilona Shipenko. She arranged for a bus to be provided by the head of a local mine, for gasoline to be donated by a regional office holder, prepared the required orders, and gathered all the necessary documents for the traffic police. Moreover, she accompanied us as a medical officer helping to transport children (as according to the rules children are not allowed to be transported without a doctor accompanying them).
Besides, I would like to mention that when I was getting all this done I sent letters asking for help to local businessmen, office holders, and even talked to some of them personally. Some were eager to help us, others – not. So I would like to thank those who did. Director of the Novopoltavsky Mine, Yuri Mager, provided us with a bus and a driver and the deputy of our Regional Council, Andrey Gogunsky, donated gasoline.
The Head of Lubimovka Village Council, Dmitry Sidelnikov, arranged transportation for children from Zaporozhye and helped to provide the tent camp with fresh vegetables. Besides, he came to visit us together with other guests when we had a fire night. People's deputy Valery Baranov made a contribution by providing free passes to the Water Park for all children and instructors. He also gave us an interview:
“The understanding that you need to help others comes as the years pass and you gain life experience and new possibilities. When you are young, you think more about yourself, about your own career. I realize that not all children can afford going to the Water Park, especially if we talk about children from low-income families. So it was my pleasure to support them so that they can make it”.
Thus, the packing was over, we got into the bus and went to Ukrayinka village of the Mykhaylovka district. Children from Zaporozhye happened to arrive only in the evening, so we were the first to come. Albert welcomed us, showed how to assemble tents. Our boys together with adults were responsible for getting them assembled. For many of them it was something they had never done before.
Tent camp, Ukrayinka village of the Mykhaylovka district (July 2012)
Then we went swimming. Of course, for children water activities are great fun. We enjoyed the picturesque view, sunflowers, and cows grassing nearby. Our rural children are used to such things, but those who came from the city were amazed when they saw real cows. That's where the milk comes from! Boating was also full of fun for everyone.
The camp changed its location and is now based on Berdyansk sandbar (18 July 2012)
It is so nice to have a cup of cocoa, enjoying the golden field of wheat in Ukrayinka village!
After a day full of active games it is so good to have a rest in a hammock
Talent show at one of Berdyansk beaches
Some children for the first time in their lives tried grilled meals. Actually for many of them a lot of things happened for the first time. Their first camping trip, first night in a tent, first journey to the seaside… And the day they spent in the Water Park was a new experience almost for everyone.
One night there was a special guest in Ukrayinka village – a military veteran who came from one of the local schools. He told children about the history of nearby villages and about the events which happened there during the Great Patriotic War
Contests, ping-pong, workshops, quests – for some children all these activities were for the first time ever.
Guests from the Do Good, Ukraine volunteer project held two interesting workshops on geography and photography for the children
Kiril, an artist and a volunteer, taught children to draw and spent two shifts in the tent camp. As soon as the school year starts, many children are sure to be eager to attend classes in art schools!
Sports Day at Ukrayinka village (by the way, this is where we are soon planning to build a village for children)
Have you signed up to go to the tent camp next year?
All the instructors did their best to get children involved into as many activities as they could. But anyway they always felt they needed to go an extra mile.
E.g., when children back at school were telling about their summer holidays, Danil Galkin told: “The greatest thing was when it started storming at night. Our instructors woke us up. It was dark, trees were shaking, and it was really windy! We were told to move to the house from our tents. We were walking with a friend of mine, wrapped into our sleeping bags and looking into the sky, scared. Then we were all making ourselves comfortable in the house. It was such fun!”
It was the second shift of the tent camp, when the instructors had to move children from tents to a nearby house to avoid any risks as it was storming hard. For the children it was an experience they will long remember! (Now we know that a small rural house can shelter 30 children!)
We, instructors, have a little bit different memories of that night. The tents were set right under trees, so when strong wind started blowing, our major concern was evacuating children as fast as we could. We were afraid that some branches may be broken and fall down on the tents. But we have to say that at the end everything worked out well. The biggest trouble it was for Albert’s wife Luda, who welcomed us in the middle of the night and accommodated all 35 ‘guests’!
Another boy told that his greatest memory was the muddy bed of the lake, where children could get all covered with mud.
So let us give a word to children and let them tell about their experience in the Klubok tent camp from their perspective.
Vadim Kuts, 12 years old, Kamenka village of Chernigovka district:
“It was my first time in a tent camp, and it was really special. I enjoyed everything very much: boating, going to the river and to the seaside, playing games, ping pong, taking part in the Sports Day. Our team won the geographic contest called Traveling around the World. We were called Africa Team, and I was dressed as a voodoo doctor. But my brightest experience was going to the Water Park. I did not even hope to find myself there – it is so expensive. I’d like to thank everybody for the fun we had there. It's a pity our time in the camp was over so quickly. I wish I could stay there longer, at least for another week”.
Yaroslav Semik, 14 years old, Stulnevo village:
“I liked it so much. I learned how to make a fire, set up a tent. The sites were picturesque and our instructors were really friendly. I learned some new songs. And the most important thing is that I got new interesting friends from Zaporozhye and Energodar. I have a lot to learn from those guys. We did not want to say good bye to each other, but we do keep in touch and interact in social networks. I liked the veteran who told us different stories about the military events which took place in the area, when we were sitting at the fire. It was great. You can’t read stories like that in books. There were interesting workshops. I am fond of photography. And we had a real photographer coming to visit us and to teach us how to make photographs. I liked the geographic contest. As for the Water Park, I dreamed of going there, and I am glad I finally did it".
Marina Pulyk, 16 years old, Zaporozhye:
"It was my first time at a tent camp. First of all, I am happy that I had a chance to meet different people. Our instructors were really cool. Besides, there were a lot of hobby clubs, workshops. We also had a geographic contest. And of course, the Water Park and our trip to the seaside were big fun".
Children from the second shift visited Berdyansk Water Park
Liana Pestova, 17 years old:
"I have never been to a camp like this before. And I am very happy that I went there. I liked grilled meals, especially cooking them with a friend of mine and our instructors. And the driving workshop was also great".
Kolya Opalchenko, 9 years old, Chernigovka:
“I learned how to swim! Besides, I won the contest Mister & Miss Tent Camp. I was the Little Mister. It was a big surprise for me”.
Every child is talented in his or her own unique way. That is why they all got their Certificates of Honor, just for different achievements!
Darya Stetsenko, Stulnevo village:
"I liked all the workshops. I learned how to make bracelets, wrist bands, and thread dolls. We helped to cook grilled mills. It was great to make new friends. Boys were so polite”.
It turned out that many children were good on stage
Aleksey Sheyko, Chernigovka:
“The sea and the Water Park were the things I admired most. I also remember how we learned the song: “If a friend…” [by Vladimir Vysotsky]. The lyrics are very beautiful and sound right. We sang it to the guitar. Generally, I liked everything there. I learned to play the guitar a little bit. I’d love to go to such a camp once more”.
Every other night children watched “smart” movies
Svyatozar Makovetsky, 12 years old, Zaporozhye:
“I liked all the games and contests. I became Mister Camp. I made a lot of friends and learned how to assemble and disassemble a tent. Singing songs to the guitar was great. I sure did enjoy my experience there!”
Bogdan Grebinets, Stulnevo village:
“I liked bathing in the lake. It was fun to help gather firewood. We could feel we were real hunters and getters. It was fun to help adults in the kitchen, to sleep in the tent – the air was so fresh! I also liked singing songs, especially the traditional Ukrainian ones. And going down the slides in the Water Park was really awesome!”
I am sure that we will proceed with projects like this one, improve our skills, and make our camping trips more useful and interesting. Children really need it.
By the way, you can support the Klubok project right now!
A plastic certificate bearing such a photo was issued to every guest of our camp, so all of them will keep the memories of our great summer 2012!