This blog supports and follows the work of Baikal Environmental Wave, an NGO based in Irkutsk, Siberia. Baikal Wave have been working to save Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, since 1990. See our recent posts for updates on their work.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

English volunteers help at children's camp

Mark Johnson of Baikal Environmental Wave and Tom Weatherley of Great Baikal Trail spent four days in ‘camp Dobrograd’, giving presentations on ecological issues and volunteering and assisting with the work.

Built in the Soviet Union for the Pioneers (one of the Soviet Union’s youth groups), following the fall of the Soviet Union the camp has fallen into disrepair. Having not been used for years, and suffering from a lack of funding the camp site is overgrown, with wooden buildings slowly rotting and falling apart.

As part of an ongoing process, summer camps are clearing, renovating and improving the site. The children generally come from Svirsk, a small town which has several factories. There are some ecological issues in the town with waste and rubbish issue.

One of the aims, in addition to giving young people something to do during the holidays, is to alter young people’s attitudes to the environment and the world around them. Maria Alexandrovna, the leader of 'Dobrograd', explained her main motivation for volunteering two weeks of her time to participate in the organizing of camp, describing the renovation of the camp as something that can serve many future generations of Svirsk's youth.

Mark and Tom saw first hand the efforts to improve the conditions of the buildings and grounds at the camp, which is situated on the banks of the Angara about an hour from Svirsk. In doing so, this led to a greater understanding of the difficulties faced by youth groups, and the importance of volunteering at the grass roots.

Tasks this summer included building steps, clearing grass and weeds from the centre of the camp site, creating flower beds and helping with food preparation. Mark and Tom saw the opportunity to use an old swimming pool as a football pitch. Clearing away weeds and overgrowth from the bottom of the pool, with the help of many of the children. The makeshift pitch proved hugely popular.

The presentations, which were planned to include maximum participation from the children, tackled issues such as pollution, energy production and promoting green habits. The children designed posters on ecological issues, and planned an imaginary two-day volunteering project in the town, designing a T-shirt for their group.

In addition to the presentations and the tasks, the children took the opportunity to interact with the foreigners. After a slow start conversation became easier and enjoyable for both sides, with mutual teaching of phrases and sharing of experiences. Both Mark and Tom were sad to leave on the Sunday, especially having developed such good relationships with the children.

Mark said “it was a real pleasure to take part in this camp. The kids really exceeded my expectations in regards to their conduct and how they worked during the course of week. By the end of the week, the camp was starting to take shape, and that is mainly down to the kids' willingness to put the work in. What also struck me was the willingness of the other adult volunteers to dedicate so much of their time to this venture, being as it was off their own backs. I came away from the camp with nothing but good impressions.”

Tom said “I was really impressed with the way the kids worked in the camp. They didn’t work all the time, kids will be kids, but they generally found things to do and worked for the good of the camp. It’s especially impressive that some people are prepared to do work like this, and it’s a great shame that there isn’t more money given to things like this in Russia, especially given health and ecological issues that will continue to affect the country in the future.”

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