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"Green Kingdom" Outdoor Summer Camp

Region: Russia
Author: Margarita Pochitaeva, ISEU - Republic of Mari-El, Middle Volga Region
Consortium Member: International Socio-Ecological Union, Moscow
Status: Needs Funding Budget: $1738 Collected: $0 Needs: $1738
Goal: To support locally-run annual environmental activities for children of different ages, nationalities and social status
Comment: Environmental camps and outdoor expeditions promote respect for traditional cultures, human diversity, and nature protection


The Republic of Mari El

The Republic of Mari El is situated in the central reaches of the Volga River. The Republic is famous for its wild forests and numerous small lakes (more, than 200) and clean rivers. Local people call our small motherland ”The Lake Land”.

The Republic of Mari El is located among the Tatar Republic, the Chuvash Republic, the Nizhny Novgorod Region and the Kirov Region. In 1997 there were 765,000 people living in the Mari El territory (23.3 thousand square kilometers). Our capital city, Yoshkar-Ola (250,900 people) came into being in 1584 as a military fortress. Now it is a beautiful modern city with its own historic traditions. Among the other regions of the European part of Russia, Mari El is famous for its relatively untouched nature. Forest occupies about 50% of all its territory; here are found plots of virgin oak woods with ancient trees which seemed to grow before the Earth was created, as it was described in the legends. Until now some of the oldest trees were sacred for the local people - the Mari who lived in harmony with nature since the very ancient times. Unfortunately, the modern people, who live and work in the high apartment buildings, have little possibilities to be in nature. Their children don't see its beauty; they don't watch the wonders of blooming flowers and wild animals, or feel the freedom of blowing wind. They don't understand nature and the traditions of their great-grandparents. One of the ways to overcome such a situation is to give them a chance to be in nature and to do something which help to protect nature at the local level.

Information About the Organization and the Project

Mari Department of the International Social Ecological Union is a local environmental NGO, established in 1995. Since 2000, Mari - ISEU has run an outdoor educational program , organizing summer environmental camps and field trips for children. We involve children of different ages and nationalities and social status in environmental activities. We welcome orphans, and children from incomplete or low-income families who otherwise would not get this type of opportunity. We do not charge any tuition for participation in our environmental activities.

The main goals of our camp are:

  1. To involve children of different ages, nationalities and social status into outdoor environmental activities and practical actions;
  2. To increase their awareness, knowledge and appreciation of nature protection, biodiversity, and sustainable development;
  3. To increase their awareness, knowledge and appreciation of the traditional cultures of peoples of different nationalities who live in Mari El (the major nationalities are the Mari people, the Tatar people, and the Russian people).

Project Needs

Each year about 30 children participate in our 15-day camp, “The Green Kingdom”. (Details of the schedule and activities are included below.) When the camp finishes, many children are willing to continue environmental activities with our NGO, participating in Earth Day actions, environmental journalism, river cleaning activities and educational actions or helping in the National Park “Mari Chodra”.

To organize a camp, our NGO applies to the City authorities, who cover the food expenses for the camp, and recommend some children from low-income families ("problem" teenagers, orphans etc.). This year the City authorities asked that we take 50 children to the camp, instead of 30. That is why we're seeking to improve the situation with the equipment in the future. The equipment we're looking for will allow us to supply the children from low-income families with sleeping bags and mats to use during the camp. (Parents with good incomes can buy the equipment themselves, or send their children to any other camp.)

Selection of Participants for the Camp Children of different ages can go to the camp. Usually we take children around 11-12 years old. The main criterion concerning age is that the child should be ready to live in the camp for 15 days in the forest. Usually we decide it after a discussion with the children and their parents. Sometimes we can take a brother and a sister or children from the family where they have many children. In such a case one of the children can be young (age 7-11), and the others - older. If we take an orphan, we talk with a parent or a guardian (tutor) concerning the child. If a mother goes to the camp (as an instructor or a service - worker), she could take her child from the age of 6.
When we choose the children for the camps, we are interested in several things:

  1. if a child has a flair for environmental work (does he or she like to go to nature, tourist expeditions, has flair to some sorts of scientific research, did he or she participate in a kind of environmental circle or went to any envrionmental action (cleaned river, participated in any sort of Earth Day actions etc). So, a large part of the children who go to the camp will be "environmentally"- oriented children. A University scientist or a head of an environmental circle can recommend a child for our camp, also.
  2. if the child or children have an incomplete family, low family income, or other problems ("difficult" teenagers) including some health problems which allow children to be in our camps. The City Authority support us with the money for food and they recommend us to take some children from a poor family, or teens who have problems. The board of the camp itself can also suggest specific children from these needy groups.
  3. we can take 2-5 children of sponsors and camp workers (instructors etc.).
Camp Schedule and Activities

The board of the camp (the Director and the Lead Teacher) are members of the Social Ecological Union. We prefer instructors of the camp to be our NGO members, too. All the planned activities of the camp are developed by the Lead Teacher and the instructors throughout the year. The Lead Teacher is a specialist who participated in several International projects concerning outdoor Environmental Education and has been developing lesson and activity plans since 1995. In 1999 she spent four months in the USA, and after this trip she organized the first environmental camp.

The camp environmental activities include:

  1. Activities which appear to the senses and the activities for investigating the surroundings (Eyes of a deer, A morning trail, Landscape and its biodiversity, A tree investigation, The Insects, etc);
  2. Activities concerning some important topics (Environmental housing and sustainable development, Energy consumption and environment; Environmental journalism (habits of work with a camera, some principles of work with mass - media), Litter and trash activities, role-plays (Here is my Village, The Milk Factory etc.).
  3. The traditional camp holidays: The day of Environment, The Robinzon Plays (competitions on eco-tourism), The Big Council of All the Living Beings
  4. Environmental games;
  5. Scientific activities and traditional culture activities (collection of scientific data and information on traditional cultures).
Here is the schedule of a typical day

Day 11. Sustainable development: what does it mean?
6:00-7:00 The group which cooks wakes up and makes breakfast
7:00-8:00 The camp wakes up, does morning exercises, washes
8:00-9:00 Breakfast
9:00-9:30 Brief discussion concerning sustainable development with the elements of a play (children have already gotten some necessary information on sustainable development, traditional culture etc.)
9:30-10:00 A lecture concerning environmentally sound energy and environmental housing
10:00-13:00 Making a group project "Eco-City"
13:00 - 14:00 Lunch
14:00- 16:00 Every group shows and explains the details of the project
16:00-17:00 Personal time, games
17:00-19:00 The board gives rewards to the participants of the competition "Eco-City", after it - games, swimming
19:00-19:30 Supper
19:30-22:00 Discussion before the campfire, songs

The activities vary every day, sometimes instead of theoretical activities children participate in practical activities (litter collection, for example). There are many ways to reach sustainable development. For example, it's possible to suggest new laws and use them in political, economical and cultural life. But we also should be ready to use them in our everyday life, so here we are talking about mentality.

The idea of the camp was: to make children sense how to live in harmony in nature all together - it's a kind of a model of new society where we try to be tolerant towards each other and the environment. So, to make it work, there has been worked out the list of rules and regulations of the camp. Every group discusses this list and agrees or disagrees with every position. Then, they try to implement these rules in the everyday life.
The rules say, for example: all the members of the camp have equal rights (even the youngest ones); respect everything around you; be quiet in nature; be tolerant of the limitations of the others; help the others; don't say bad words to anybody (even if your friend does something wrong), don't throw litter etc. Another side of our programs - is to give children a chance to be socially active. When the camp begins, we try to meet all the people till all the members know the names of the others. Then, we show them how to investigate, how to work with the compass and how to be in nature with minimal harm. For this we use different plays and activities. In the middle of the camp we start to teach children about some environmental issues through studies of our surroundings, traditional culture, and excursions. The final part of the camp is devoted to "modeling" classes where children are taught the principles of biodiversity, sustainable development, and environmental housing.
The aim of all these classes and activities is to show, that every living being has an equal right to survive. And also, that our camp "community" can live in harmony with nature. That is why I consider our activities as a first step towards sustainable development at the local level. The board of the camp also carries out on research of its own activities. The indirect answers of the former participants show, that we can observe some changes of mentality of children even after their first trip to the camp. For example, they not catch small animals with the aim to investigate, as usual. Instead, they stay still and observe the animal (insect), see, what does it do etc.

Year-Round Follow-Up Activities

The camps are not just an opportunity to have fun. It's a real possibility for children to participate in the environmental activities and to be socially active. They are learning habits which can last a lifetime. Besides the camps, our NGO has a number of actions where children can take part. They are:

  1. Earth Day actions (river cleaning activities, The competition of chalk drawings on asphalt, The essay competition, The picture competition, struggle against illegal fires etc. These actions are conducted by the leaders of the local NGOs (Mari Department of Social Ecological Union, The Youth Ecological Union etc).
  2. Travel expeditions to study traditional culture, or do scientific research and litter collection. These activities are conducted by the camp board (the Director or the Lead Teacher).
  3. River cleaning activities. In Autumn we go to the National Park "Mari Chodra" to clean litter along the rivers and lakes. In Spring we clean the rivers in our city. These activities are conducted by the camp board together with the NGO leaders.
  4. Environmental circles at the children's Library where children and schools who have a flair for environmental work can continue their activities (short field trips, scientific work etc.). Usually the leader of a circle is an instructor of our camp.
In our last camp (The Green Kingdom) the total number of children was 30, including two "difficult" teenagers (one of them an orphan), two with serious health problems, eleven from incomplete families and ten from low-income families. Twelve of the participants had previous environmental experience. After the camp the "difficult" teens with the 12 more experienced children went to help the national park "Mari Chodra" where we collected litter along lakes Mushan'yer and Yalchik. It was not only practical, but scientific work, too. The children had special training on the litter problem. They collected data on where, how and why people pollute the lakes. After that the children and the adults wrote recommendations to the board of the National Park of how to reduce the litter pollution. Moreover, one of them also wrote a scientific paper and sent it to an NGO conference in the neighboring Tatar Republic, where this paper won the second prize for its contribution.

Our camp is becoming popular among the people of our cities because Mari El is one of the regions of Russia where many low income people live. Even people from the other regions are interested in our experience. Last year three NGO members from the city of Ulyanovsk came to our camp to borrow some experience. If we have equipment, we can organize 2 or 3 camps per year and also involve more children in environmental activities.

Outcomes

The development of the project and new equipment will allow us to involve more children from low income families in outdoor environmental activities. The information about the project will be spread through mass-media. As some NGOs from the other regions of Russia are interested in our work, we can annually invite 1-2 members of other NGOs into our camps and spread our experience and results.

Budget
Tents 1190
Sleeping bags and tourist mats 240
Mess-tins, frying-pan, pails 50
Medicine chest 80
Supplies (paper, pens etc.) 20
Subtotal 1580
Virtual Foundation administrative fee 158
Total Requested from VF 1738