Social concern can take many forms. Summer camps can be more than simple holiday programmes addressed to children. When funny and recreational activities in nature combine with social interest, the result is always surprising. From the 9th to 11th of July, I took part to a special camp (stovykla in Lithuanian) whose aims were the well-being, the development of social and creative skills of a group of children coming from Marcinkonys’ community. Each child of this group has his or her own story, which is characterised by difficult families or living situations, but they demonstrated their inner strength in many occasions.
My tutor and I had the possibility to assist a group of ‘expert leaders’, namely Rimas and Asta from the Center for Social Partnership, Onute as a biologist from Dzukija National Park and Rimantas as our official photographer. This camp as well as other previous camps was characterized by some formalities like registration and creation of important rules to observe (the ‘telephones will be used only after activities’ rule appears to be very popular in children’s camps as I have noticed :D). However, the most surprising parts of each day were preparation of meals, from breakfast to dinner. Where lies the surprise? In the fact that children proved collaboration with both us and each other, they always waited for everybody to be there and have each portion of the meal and nobody touched food before holding each other’s hands and thank for what they got to eat. After meals, at least two or three of them took turns to wash dishes and clean the table. Despite their difficult living situations and a sort of ‘lack’ of social skills, I was deeply impressed by their behaviour and thoughtfulness and I managed to spend some great time with them.
Every day focused on a specific activity, which aimed to increase these children’s knowledge about their territory and possibilities of developing artistic and creative skills by means of craft. On the first day, our group had the possibility of visiting the State Border Guard Service Headquarters (Valstybës Sienos Aupsaugos Tarnyba in Lithuanian), which is located in Kabeliai close to the border with Belarus. Children learnt the value of patrolling borders and preventing any form of abuse or illegal commerce. For me the most interesting and funny part was a little trip on a motorboat that went through Grūda Lake without crossing the line that separates the Lithuanian part of the lake and its surroundings from the Belorussian territory. Then, we had a little tour of Kabeliai, which was also an important village for Lithuanian Partisans, and we had dinner in a house which has also a laboratory for the production of delicious cheese and other dairy products. We also helped the host removing weeds and brushwood from his farmland. Before dinner, time was spared in order to do some social and active games.
On the second day, we moved to Musteika village, which is popular for its traditional beekeeping culture and a beekeeping museum. This tiny village is a rural settlement that maintains traditional customs. Romas, our ‘Master of Beekeping’ at Dzukija NP, showed us around and gave us information about different types of bees (all of them are native to the region in a more natural way than most modern beekeepers), the way they work and which products they make. In an old-fashioned apiary, bees settle in hollow pines, where they create their hives, and can roam and take advantage of all the nearby flowers and plants. Another part of this village that can not be neglected is the ‘Beekeeping Museum’ which is full of traditional beekeeping equipment (from working tools to daily life items like the bed of the beekeeper)and examples of the hollowed-out trees. There were also journalists that interviewed Romas who then gave them a ‘taste’ of what is the beekeeping art. He started with putting some dry vegetable fibres and other little inflammable weeds inside what is called a “smoker”, that is a device designed to generate smoke from the incomplete combustion of items inside of it. This smoke has precise functions: it can calm bees and above all the confusion it generates also creates an opportunity for the beekeeper to open the hive and work without triggering a defensive reaction. Then, Romas provided us all with special hats to protect our heads and climbed one of the hollow pines to show us the outcome of the bees, in terms of honey, different types of honeycombs and what will become wax. Other traditional log hives and smaller hives (vabikai, in Lithuanian) were luring swarms of bees.
However, the daily life of a real beekeeper is also characterized by other small tasks to perform, like cutting wood or getting water from the well (tip for all the ‘housewife’ attitude in us: some sand and ash combined with water from well turns out to be of great help in case of lack of detergent and lots of dirty dishes XD). Children truly assumed that role as they enjoyed carrying and cutting wood and making fire where to boil water for tea. Some of these children joined me for an artwork that was educative and consistent with the beekeeping tradition. This creative project was based on my idea and I thought about all details. We created a 3D hive on a paper to hang on the wall of the Beekeeping Museum. We created each single hexagonal cell of the hive with some paperboard pattern and framed each cell with some string with vinyl glue in order to make it ‘come to life’. Then, all of us colored and populated this hive with painted bees without neglecting the queen bee, drones and swarms. Children also split in three groups that could create each part of the final product, that is a rap song inspired by bees and nature (this song was performed of course!). Here come the ‘Spiečius’ (cluster in English) who also signed the paper hive XD.
On the last day, we went into the woods in order to find the best trees for weaving and to collect the necessary materials. We cut some Common Osier (Žilvitinis karklas in Lithuanian), removed the cortex of each branch and created some baskets with the help of Romas who is an expert in this art.
This camp did not focused only on the leisure/art activities but it also prioritised the emotional aspect of this type of experience. On the second day, we organized some social games with the support of a psychologist who helped these children to express as much as possible their desires and potentialities. These ones emerged for example when we divided in three groups and conveyed our idea of ‘family’ including both positive and negative aspects. This camp made me realise the social and educative importance of craft for children with difficult background. This art requires dedication and time and allows children to discover and develop their skills as well as to maintain a bond with local community and nature. Finally, the fun dimension was ensured even in simple and unexpected moments such as dancing and playing in the rain (I am so happy that I loosed myself ;D).