The Summer 2015 camp became a very productive and successful project. As planned, our team was teaching English at Camp Aist July 12-19. During our visit, about 100 orphans from Kharkov County were spending their summer break there. The kids were representing several local orphanages: Zeleny Guy, Bogodukhov, Sakhnovshina, Kupyansk, Lyubotin, orphanages for the visually impaired and kids with CP, etc. The fact that many of the campers were special need kids made our work even more meaningful.
Our team consisted of 8 volunteers, both the local Ukrainians and US volunteers. Our very special team member was Jenia, an orphan herself, who now attends one of the local Universities. As an alumnus of our hosting trips to the US, Jenia happily agreed to volunteer at the summer language camp. Her command of English and dedication to our mission were simply admirable.
Our ESL program included 3 hours of formal English classes every day (one class in the morning and one in the afternoon). Almost 50 children became our regular students, with daily attendance taken. All who had expressed interest were accepted, most without any previous experience with English at all. The participants were split into 2 groups, one for kids under age 14, and another one for older orphans. Each student received a writing pad and a pencil; and on a first day, each child made a name-bracelet with English alfa-beads.
The program was designed as interactive and fun. Every day students explored a specific topic, like Clothes, Food, Animals, Sports, etc. Some of the activities became a real hit: The US Map Puzzle, Fruit/Veggie Guessing Game, Alphabet Song, Word-Search Contest.
Besides the formal daily classes, countless hours were spent on informal socializing and activities, on forming friendships that might last forever. Campers were so eager to learn about “life in America” and on our end, we were so happy to give these kids in need some extra attention they usually lack. Apparently, simple conversations, book reading, casual chatting were very much appreciated by the orphans. Among the kids, it was so nice to see several of our hosting trips alumni.
Our team was very impressed with our participants’ sincere interest towards English and diligence in attendance. Hundreds of questions as to English were asked and answered not only in classes, but also during our spare time. On a last day, all of our students and even some caregivers enthusiastically participated in creating a huge colorful Thank You banner – to thank those who supported the Project.
By the end of the course, our team held a Reward Ceremony. Each program participant received a gift and those with 100% attendance received extra bonuses. An average gift looked like this: toothpaste, toothbrush, socks, shades, flashlight, hair accessories (for girls), all put in a cosmetic bag. Younger kids additionally received stuffed toys and Barbie-dolls. For many if not all of the girls, this was their first ever Barbie-doll, which was very touching.
All campers, regardless of whether they participated in our classes or not, received a customized pen featuring our Project that said “Camp AIST, Ukraine, 2015”. To show our appreciation to all of the adults caring for the campers, we found it possible to give such a customized pen to each camp employee too.
When holding a Reward Ceremony, we were quite amazed by how these kids value what we take for granted. For instance, one of our supporters from Menlo Park, CA donated sleep masks. We initially used them for our Fruit-Veggie Guessing activities when suddenly our students started asking to keep these masks. The happiness they expressed when receiving the masks was quite a jaw-dropping experience for our team.
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