Volunteer Summer Camp in Belskoye Ustye: how it all happened
“As you walk along the small country road to the orphanage you see the children running for all they’re worth to greet you. Your only thought at that moment is “this is it, real freedom. Without labels or expectations… they will accept and love me as I am.” After a long hug, holding each other by the hand, you go together to the orphanage and it is the most valuable and most difficult portion of the journey that is your life,” — a Summer Camp volunteer
Step Up’s Summer Camp for mentally and physically disabled children at the Belskoye Ustye orphanage finished on the 26th July. It’s difficult to describe how strong and daring this camp was in a few sentences — each day, each minute, was filled with meaning and the feeling that you have known these children all your life.
Summer Camp has been running for 15 years. Every year, volunteers from different cities and countries come to this small village in the Pskov region, Belskoye Ustye, to run developmental activities for the children in the orphanage. Now there are about 70 children aged from 4 to 25 in the orphanage with diagnoses of varying illnesses (during the camp they also created a temporary group of disabled children from families).
Usually Summer Camp lasts 3-4 weeks, during which volunteers run developmental activities and organize sporting and various other events, working 5 hours a day with the children. Preparations for daily activities takes up all the volunteers’ spare time because they do not have an easy task: to include all the children in activities and do everything they can so that the everyone takes part, regardless of age and diagnosis.
This year, Summer Camp ran from the 3rd to 26th July — three busy weeks in which more events happened than take place in half a year of normal life. The atmosphere among volunteers was filled with such inspiration and joy that it meant both changes in the children and in each of the project’s participants.
Summer Camp changes people. It is a place where a person comes not just to give their love and attention to children but also to take something in return, for each it is different. Here there are no social expectations or roles. The children accept you for who you are. It is this feeling of unconditional love, and happiness from the interaction, that hooks people who come here like a drug — and it is this emotion that is so hard to explain to people who have never been here.
The Summer Camp was so fantastical, of course, thanks to our team of volunteers — but a lot was down to the place where we were based. This was a new, unfinished house that was always something we dreamt about — but which is now becoming reality. It is already possible to say that a new life for this project is beginning.
A huge thank you to all those who supported the camp and made it possible:
Thank you to Megafon and Absolut-pomosh for financial help,
Thank you to GSK and, personally, to Mariya Kokoreva for the stationary and materials for work with the children,
Thank you to Pyotr and Valera for financial support in renovating the house
Thank you to IKEA for the furniture and equipment for the house
Thank you to CharityShop and, personally, to Dariya Alekseeva for financial support and help in organizing Summer Camp
Thank you to Globus and Nestle for food supplies for Summer Camp
Thank you to Lina Saltykova for the key advice and recommendations and for the support at difficult moments
Thank you to Liliya Latysheva for regular support of Step Up’s projects including Summer Camp
Thank you to Inna Kulagina for help in the selection and purchase of sporting and camping items
Thank you to everyone who supported us on Planeta.ru and GlobalGiving.
Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers! It was amazing!
You can see more photographs in this photo gallery
And, finally, a short film about life for volunteers at Summer Camp:)