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Siberian Experiences

The time of July 16th August 2nd holds pleasant memories for the volunteers and staff of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, for during this time the Centers members were able to experience the beautiful nature and immeasurable hospitality of the people with whom they met and worked in eastern Russia. After an interesting three-day train ride, the group (which included the Centers Director, Ashot Ayrapetyan, translator, Masha ---, and volunteers Jaclyn Edwards, Markus Eicher, Stephan Richter and Sandro Henschel) arrived in Novosibirsk and met the staff of Camp Vostok (East). The multi-cultural group, (whose members came from all over Russia, including Kamchatka, Krasnayarsk, Yakutsk, Irkutsk, Kazakhstan, as well as representing the cultures of Kurdistan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Korea), enjoyed a quick tour of the city before heading towards Camp Vostok. Upon arrival, the group quickly settled into the comfortable compound and enjoyed a welcome ceremony and feast from the camps director Larissa Fisher. During their stay, the Center for Interethnic Cooperation led several training exercises regarding democracy, human rights, and racism in Russia. The following is an example of one of the many exercises which took place:

The group was randomly divided into three large groups. Each group had the task of electing a commander of project. The goal of each group was to design their ideal camp, with the budget of one million dollars. Interestingly, each group presented a different account of what a successful camp would need: while some focused mainly on the construction of various ethnic houses and stressed the importance of the arts in order to foster multiculturalism, others dedicated large portions of their budget to the renovation of existing buildings and attempted to westernize their imaginary camp. Upon the completion of the presentation, each group was subject to constructive criticism, questions, and comments, and a group discussion followed. As a result, the exercise served to not only exemplified the democratic process, but also to allow discussion of the importance of symbols, culture, and team work.

During their free time, the group participated in several sports such as basketball and volleyball, and was able to enjoy the nearby beach. Representatives of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation were able to enjoy various cultural dances and songs from the other participants, and were also given the opportunity to watch a historical-cultural documentary of Azerbaijan. One highlight of their week in Camp Vostok came when the group was invited to the nearby Cossack Camp, where children aged 6-16 camped in make-shift tents for the summer. Several fun games were exemplified by the director of the camp, as well as combat techniques that are taught to the children, and a traditional Cossack dance. After 5 days at Camp Vostok, representatives of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, with some of the other members of the group, traveled to Camp Dzerzhinets, about 3 hours away.

At this more modern camp, the group (under the title of INTER) worked as a multi-cultural example for the children. Several clubs were established by INTER, and the children had the choice of choosing which club interested them most. For example, representative of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation formed an English club (which provided games and songs for the children to practice their English language skills), Dance club (where the children could learn the salsa, boogie, fox trot, waltz, cha cha, etc), Travel club (where the children could learn about various countries of interest such as Turkey and Italy), and Debate club (where the children discussed topics of interest to them, learning to form constructive arguments and so on). Again, the group INTER took part in the various activities of the camp, engaging the children in games of volleyball and football, accompanying them on a boat ride down the Ob river, and interacting with them on a daily basis.

In the evenings, the group was able to enjoy the nearby forest, where they held several campfires and enjoyed all sorts of delicious food such as shashlik, watermelon, and baked potatoes. Nearing the end of their time at Camp Dzerzhinets, the group was invited to tour a neighboring camp and to experience their entertaining finale concert to the children. As part of their goodbye gift to the children of Camp Dzerzhinets, INTER put on a comedic circus performance on the final day of the camp. Needless to say, the performance went extremely well to the enjoyment of adults and children alike. After saying goodbye to their new friends in Novosibirsk, the representatives of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation traveled to Yekaterinburg in order to attend two conferences held by local ethnic organizations and a European Union delegation from Germany.

Jaclyn Edwards

August 16, 2006

1993-2003
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