School summer holidays in Belarus are not just three months of free time for schoolchildren; they are an opportunity for new experiences. Traditionally, youngsters would head to camps for a taste of outdoor life and team spirit; today, such camps are just as popular.
Camp of local significance
Plenty of activities, in the fresh air, surrounded by forest, rivers and lakes: it’s the idyll of summer camp in Belarus. Of course, some teenagers spend their holidays working at spas, military bases or high schools, or help with restoration projects. However they spend their time, they are always the richer for it, while gaining the rest that comes from a change of scene.
The school in the small village of Old Dyatlovichi, in the Gomel Region, closed 10 years ago — due to lack of demand. However, three years ago, it was reorganised as a ‘children’s resort’ for the summer months — now known as the Centre of Tourism and Local History for Children and Young People. As you might imagine, youngsters have the chance to learn the history of their native land, taking excursions to sites of interest. They also take part in social projects, explains the Chairman of the District Executive Committee, Alexander Sitnitsa, “We wanted to breathe new life into the former school, so we gathered heads of enterprises to help us implement this good idea and, together, guided the project.”
Mr. Sitnitsa adds that Old Dyatlovichi was once a significant town, but its population dwindled. However, its locale remains beautiful, being surrounded by woods, a river and, of course, fresh air. It’s now a hub for the district, attracting not only summer camp children but those with behaviour problems, as well as gifted youngsters. Voluntary groups and other clubs also meet there.
The centre’s two-storey house looks like a picture from a glossy magazine, with its white bricks and modern windows. It’s light and comfortable inside, with laminated flooring and modern furniture. The ‘Boomerang’ camp is in full swing, gathering children whose lives have been far from easy. One of the rules is that no one talks about their past problems, turning a new leaf at the camp. Everyone is equal and encouraged to take responsibility for themselves. The youngsters come from several countries, which also gives the opportunity to broaden their outlook. Debates, strategic games and friendship evenings are organised, as well as plenty of adventurous activities, including swimming. In addition, by doing ‘good deeds’, the children earn ‘dyatly’ currency, which they can exchange for treats. They also have access to psychologists and have time to relax, as well as trying their hand at creative tasks.
In a relatively short time, this small camp with a family atmosphere has become a place for foreign educational projects. This year marks its second International Linguistic Camp, including British students and teachers for two weeks, when the children speak exclusively English.
Difficulties of transition
Teenage years can be difficult, being a time of psychological transition. Growing children need energy outlets and summer is the perfect time for this. The Gomel Region camp is a great place for teenagers, giving them the chance to put aside their usual worries. Those who aren’t flying high at school or have difficulty ‘fitting in’ with their peers can forge a better sense of their own identity and how they can contribute to the world. The ‘Student — You!’ project aims to boost youngsters’ self-esteem through the solving of challenges: an idea initiated some years ago at the Military Transportation Faculty of the Belarusian State University. Since then, teenagers have been joined by the military, rescue workers and policemen, alongside students and teachers, helping them realise their true potential.
Vanya Kirillov, 15, has been to the camp twice, travelling from the city of Vetka, after having the idea suggested by a local police officer. Vanya tells us, “I became interested, as there’s something new every day. Life is like in the army but more diverse. We’ve been on excursions to a rescue station and police station, as well as to museums I’ve not seen before.”
Trips into the countryside are another source of delight, alongside various contests; there’s hardly a free minute, with each hour occupied meaningfully. Psychologists who work with children at the camp admit to seeing real change; youngsters become more sociable and open, as well as discovering new talents and hobbies. Some even decide their future profession.
It seems that the original aims of the project are being fulfilled, showing teenagers that there’s more to life than hanging about on street corners and giving them greater personal direction. Young men come to an understanding that the world lies before them and that only they can shape their future. They’re shown that they have a role at the heart of their family, society and the nation as a whole, and that it takes inner strength as well as physical prowess to perform certain jobs. The camp encourages them to aim high. The popularity of such camps has increased over recent years, as their success is proven time and again.
Through thick and thin
About 200 children from 13 countries recently gathered in the Gomel Region for the 11th International Forum of Young Fire Fighters, with representatives from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, USA, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and South Korea. The event was hosted in the grounds of the Gomel Engineering Institute Lyceum (under the Emergency Situations Ministry of Emergency Situations).
The two-week forum is held in Belarus every year at a different site, with Gomel having the honour this year. The first event aimed to introduce participants to one another, making new friends; this was followed by activities to promote professional skills. The Belarusian team told us, “Shooting, darts, military deployment and campfires are just some of the competitive activities.” Those from Poland added, “We’ll take part in a range of creative contests, including one for the best poster and newspapers, a national creative evening, and a culinary contest. Rescuers have many sides.”
After spending even one day at the camp, it’s clear that the youngsters are enjoying themselves. The boys love competing in marksmanship and planning for ‘man-made disasters’ while the girls tend to enjoy musical performances and ‘first aid’ competitions.
The benefits of such camps are obvious. All boundaries between nationalities are irrelevant, with youngsters easily making friends. The experience and skills they gain will stay with them for always.
By Violetta Dralyuk
Pictures of children’s summer
[b]School summer holidays in Belarus are not just three months of free time for schoolchildren; they are an opportunity for new experiences. Traditionally, youngsters would head to camps for a taste of outdoor life and team spirit; today, such camps are just as popular.[/b]