The impact a camp can have...

By Euan Woolley. Global Action UK

We've been hearing a lot over the last couple of months about the Global Action summer camps in Ukraine, and about the impact they can have.  While reflecting on these, I remembered one testimony from a camp back in 2010 that has really stayed in my mind.  

At the time it was an inspiration to see how God worked in this girl's life.  I hope it is of encouragement to you.

We had taken a team to run a summer camp in Ukraine.  Our aim was to put together a first-class summer camp experience for 100 children who would never usually experience a holiday like this.  We also wanted to create an environment in which local volunteers and counsellors could help these children overcome major obstacles in their lives.  Our team included a psychotherapist as well as qualified children's workers.

While we were running the camp we noticed one girl who stood out, her name was Gerda.  The leaders told us her story.

Gerda grew up in extreme poverty with her sister in Ukraine.  They lived with their mentally ill mother.  From an early age she locked Gerda and her sister in their room, and boarded up the windows.  Light couldn’t penetrate into the room.  Because of this, Gerda’s sister developed a vitamin deficiency and her bones didn’t develop properly.  She also suffered growth problems.  The whole time they lived at home neither sister could leave the house.  Not even once.  They never had the chance to feel the sun on their skin or the wind in their hair.

Eventually Gerda and her sister were rescued by social services, and they were sent to a home for children who had experienced trauma.  There they awaited adoption by a loving family. 

Even after all she had suffered, Gerda’s heart was full of love.  She was friendly with all the other children she lived with.  She still dreamt of being adopted by loving parents. 

One day Gerda’s dream came true.  She was adopted by a loving couple.  Things started well but soon began to go downhill.  The problem was the couple had a daughter of their own.  And she quickly became jealous of their affection for Gerda.  She began to kick-back.  Soon the whole situation became unmanageable.  The parents then did the one thing they promised they never would do, they sent Gerda back to the orphanage.

At this point, Gerda shut down to the outside world.  She stopped speaking to people.  Instead she would only draw pictures.  But all her pictures contained horrific images summing up her feelings of rejection and pain.  Her soul had been wounded.

When Gerda attended a summer camp in 2010 she was a broken girl.  The leaders – including a psychotherapist and qualified children’s workers – worked really hard to accommodate Gerda’s needs.  Despite this the first few days were very difficult.  Gerda wouldn’t engage with any of the activities.  In fact, she spent nearly all her time alone, hidden away in a corner.  There she drew her pictures.  Her pictures depicting violence and humiliation.

But one of the camp counsellors decided she would do all she could to support and love Gerda.  She took every opportunity to show Gerda she was special.  At one point, she took Gerda aside and told her “Whatever you have experienced, wherever you have been that has caused you hurt, this is one place where everyone loves you and where you will be accepted.”  In tandem, the leaders worked hard to ensure all the other children supported and accepted Gerda.

These words had an impact on Gerda.  Over the next few days she began to open up.  Slowly but surely, she began to interact with the other children.  And as she received positive feedback and love from the others, she opened up more confidently.  She began to play with the other children.  The leaders began to see hope returning to her eyes.

One particularly memorable occasion was during craft time.  Because Gerda was so artistic (her pictures were exquisitely drawn) she was able to help the other children on her table with their crafts.  When she helped them successfully complete their crafts, they responded with cheers.  Seeing her face beaming in response was one of the most enduring memories of this camp.  By the end of the camp she was laughing and joking with the other children like they were old friends.

What’s more, her pictures changed too.  What were once pictures depicting death and humiliation became pictures you would expect a 13-year old girl to create – pictures of nature and animals.  Perhaps these were the best indication of the change that had occurred in her heart.

We see again and again how the relationships that develop during camps can change the direction of children’s lives.  When children return from camps, our local churches are able to continue to mentor and support the children in their orphanages.

We are really grateful for your support which allows us to help children like Gerda through our camps and ongoing mentoring work each year.