Be a Friend This Summer: Help a Child in Need Attend an MWB Summer Camp

Imagine your life with absent, abusive or alcoholic parents.  Or parents who are trying the best to make ends meet by searching rubbish tips, by working every hour that God sends, or have given you up to an institution in hope it will be a better life for you.  An institution with no love, no happiness.  Or a life with love but little hope, little respite from hunger, work and hardship.  And then imagine that you are 10 and you get the chance to escape it all for just a few days.  A few days filled with colour, fun, relaxation, excitement, learning and fun.  Would you give a few pounds to make that happen for a child in need?

LOVE makes the world around as the girls above show and the love and dedication of Mission Without Borders staff, support workers and volunteers is unsurpassable.  They run 54 summer camps between May and August each year in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.  Last year and amazing 4,755 children attended the summer camps, all of them from deprived backgrounds.

At each of the 12 campsites summertime fun is order of the day, a welcome respite in these young people's often difficult lives.  Nearly 5000 children relish the chance to relax and enjoy a real childhood for once, in a safe, secure environment.  many of those attending live in institutions or have very challenging home lives.  This chance to play, learn experientially and explore their creativity in a natural environment is unparalleled.

Being in a natural environment has untold benefits for the children, but added to that are opportunities to exercise, make friends, learn new skills, try new activities and begin to define who they are as people.  The children's wellbeing is of paramount importance, and they are encouraged to develop vital skills of independence, imagination, innovation, teamwork, interpersonal communication and problem-solving.  They also learn about hygiene, healthy food choices, respect, personal boundaries, and managing complex emotions, issues they may not receive guidance in elsewhere.  Not to mention receiving three square meals a day!

In Ukraine, Olga lives in an institution with her sister after their mother, living in poverty and struggling to raise them, gave them up.  At the children's home she is fed and clothed, but little beyond her basic needs is met.  At summer camp Olga realised for the first time that she is special and loved, not just her sister's carer.  She says:

"The difference between the boarding school and camp is that everyone at camp is so friendly. No-one would hurt you. I learnt that it is possible to be friendly and joyful, even if someone treats me badly. It was such a relief for me. I always knew about God, but it was only at camp that it felt important."

When a child goes to summer camp, they enter an atmosphere of love and care. The whole experience is designed to make children feel happy and worthy, vitally important for children who feel so hopeless and worthless elsewhere. The camp settings are chosen to be beautiful, picturesque and peaceful, set deep in the forest, and the children have good quality accommodation, tasty meals and lots of fun activities and games.

At camp, staff and volunteers are always on hand to answer children’s questions and listen to their problems. They act as positive role models to children who may lack this in their lives, and children are exposed to a Christian value system and way of living that demonstrates love and respect for others. They also learn emotional tools to equip them for the emotions and difficulties of their daily lives.

Giving vulnerable children guidance on daily hygiene, looking after their accommodation, eating well, and looking after themselves may seem simple but is vital for their future success in life.  They will also receive a medical check-up from a healthcare professional , possibly for the first time due to the prohibitive cost of healthcare in their country.

But one of the most essential opportunities summer camp affords is the chance to just, for a ltitle while, be a child.  To play games, swim, run, create, and make friends.  Friends made at summer camp can last for years and offer vulnerable children a support network that can be, literally, life-changing.

Soon to turn 14, Artem lives in the same children's home as Olga, a small, enclosed world of few belongings and very little knowledge of the outside world.  As visits from family become less frequent, they have to rely solely on themselves and become isolated and often withdrawn.

Artem's voice trembles as he remembers his grandparents.  Put into the home as a young child by his parents when he had difficulty following rules and instructions and couldn't sit still.  His family's visits became less and less frequent and Artem learn one day that his beloved grandfather had passed away.  Feeling lonely and lost, Artem was grief-stricken and increasingly isolated himself, leading to more challenging behaviour then ever.

This will be Artem's first time at a Mission Without Borders’ summer camp, and he cannot wait.  At camp he will be accepted and valued, receive the attention and care he craves, and be treated from a place of patience and love.  Just what he needs.

In Bulgaria, Serjina is from a Roma community in a very poor part of the country.  Local MWB co-ordinator Emil has foten seeing the children crying from hunger, their mother also in tears, powerless to help them.  However, the family were strong and determined to stay together so they are provided with clothes, food parcels, school supplies and fuel.  They have plenty of love.

Last summer, Serjina was invited to attend MWB's summer camp for the first time.  Having never left her village before, at first she was scared, but once she got there Serjina  was awe-struck by her new surroundings and absorbed everything.  She particularly loved learning to swim, singing and learning about God.  Camp has shown Serjina that there is a big world out there and that she has greater potential than she could imagine, a whole world of possibilities.

Igor, 10, is the oldest of four siblings, living in Moldova.  Two years ago, his father died. His mother has addiction issues and Igor and his siblings don’t receive the care they need.  After his 5 year old sister was found wandering alone near a rubbish dump, all of the children were taken into state care and separated.  Igor often feels lonely and afraid.  His mother has visited only once in the last year, but Igor clings on to the hope she will return for him one day.

Last year Summer Camp provided an escape for Igor and his siblings from this heartache.  For ten days they experienced the joy of new things such as throwing a Frisbee, roller-skating, skateboarding, climbing, volleyball and football.  Counsellors helped them to manage complex and difficult emotions, aiming to equip them with the resilience and skills to overcome setbacks in the years to come.

As at all the camps, the summer camp Igor attended in Moldova is full of the sound of children laughing.  You would not believe looking round at all the happ children taking part in activities at camp that 35% of the children are orphans and 24% come from single-parent families.  There is no sign of worry, anxiety or tragedy anywhere, just a sense of joy which hits you immediately.

Igor said:

"I really liked the games we played at camp. The counsellors are very nice and kind. Thank you for this beautiful time."

I wish I could tell you the stories of all 4,755 beautiful children who benefitted from MWB summer camps last year, but space does not allow.  Let me end with the words of 13 year old Vlada.  She has spent her childhood caring for her younger siblings and feels the weight heavily on her shoulders.  But of her short experience of childhood freedom last year, she says:

"The camp was very beautiful. It was called ‘Joy’, and that was the reality as we were laughing all the time. I enjoyed so many games and activities and made so many friends. But the most important thing is that here I met a true friend in Jesus and I found out about His love for all people."

To help children like Olga, Artem, Serjina, Igor and Vlada, please contribute whatever you can to Mission Without Border's summer camp appeal.

Be a friend.  Together we can make a difference to troubled young lives.

Please give what you can, and let's make strides together!

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