We are publishing a media coverage from the Gala Camp prepared by UAINFO.ORG

“War leaves scars not only on the body, but also on the soul. And it is sometimes too difficult to heal them. Especially when it comes to children evacuated from the war zone and those who could leave the temporarily occupied territories. However, volunteers do not stay aside; they do their best to take care of children. This, thanks to the efforts of Oksana Shakhmatenko, a volunteer of the NGO “Freedom of Speech Institute” and the Charity Foundation “HOPE worldwide Ukraine”, a summer camp was organized in Kamianets-Podilskyi for 76 such children. And Kamianets-Podilskyi is one of the most beautiful cities of Ukraine where one can heal these “scars”.

Dreams Come True

Oksana Shakhmatenko told that there are three social and psychological rehabilitation centers in the Mykolaiv region, where children evacuated from the war zone (Mykolaiv region, Kherson region, Donetsk region) are staying. Some were brought from temporarily occupied territories. These children are orphans, half-orphans, the parents of some of them are deprived of parental care.

“My fellow volunteer Yana Maiboroda, other volunteers and I supported such communal institutions as much as possible, organized holidays and gifts for children… There is not enough space to list those who helped us. But really, the children in these centers rarely leave the premises. And that’s why I really wanted to try to take the children to a recreation camp so that they could have a great summer time,” the volunteer said.

At the stage of preparation, Oksana Shakhmatenko addressed the “HOPE worldwide Ukraine” Charity Foundation, as it has a good reputation and an impeccable history of activity, and is also professionally engaged in providing psychological rehabilitation. After all, in this case it was important to organize not only leisure time, but also psychological support, because the children are truly traumatized.

“We received a recommendation to work with the Gala Camp in Kamianets-Podilskyi. This is a really cool place to work with children. So, the only thing that was left to take care of was the money. I’ve been looking for funding for about three months. I addressed various donors: Americans, French, Poles… There were promises, but in reality no one was ready to allocate funds. And then I got a phone number of American businessman and philanthropist Dell Loy Hansen. It was like “well, now it depends on you, negotiate”. For two days I had been thinking what to write to him… Finally I sent a message, and at first no reaction followed. However, the very next day, the representative of Mr. Hansen in Ukraine called me and asked about all the details. Then the financing of the project was agreed upon very promptly.

I am truly delighted with Dell Loy Hansen. He is a very generous man with a big soul. By the way, I was told that he mostly helps children, the elderly, IDPs, widows, and war veterans. Those who cannot take care of themselves,” Oksana Shakhmatenko shared.

The volunteer explained that this is probably a unique case, because the benefactor himself expressed a desire to communicate with children who attended the camp. After all, it is very rare that the donor personally communicates with the final beneficiaries of the donation. So Mr. Hansen talked to children during the video conference. And they literally bombarded him with questions: who are you; where you live; what kind of office do you have; what is the weather like where you are; have you ever visited Ukraine; do you know what’s going on here? And Dell Loy was pleased to talk to them.

“However, there is a particularly touching story. During this conversation, one boy from Kherson said that his father remained in the occupied part of the Kherson region. And their house was flooded after Kakhovka HPP Dam was blown up by the aggressors. After hearing this story, Mr. Hansen agreed to allocate an apartment for this boy’s family!” – said Oksana Shakhmatenko.

With Ukraine in Heart

Dell Loy Hansen is the founder and CEO of the Wasatch Group. He has already visited Ukraine three times and is planning his next visit soon. By the way, at the end of June this year, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi met with Dell Loy Hansen.

The head of state thanked the philanthropist for helping Ukrainians, because since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the russian federation into Ukraine, he has actively engaged in charity projects to support our country. “I know that you implement very important projects to support our people. We really appreciate that you are investing in life, in helping people,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized.

For his part, Dell Loy Hansen noted that he admires the leadership of the President of Ukraine and the entire Ukrainian people in protecting the values of freedom and democracy. And he also expressed his conviction that in this fight the support to Ukraine should remain unshaken.

The founder of Wasatch Group presented to Volodymyr Zelensky the project of the multi-apartment residential complex “Hansen Town”, the main idea of which is to create a large community for the elderly, war veterans, widows, orphans and people with limited abilities. The project will include centers for medical and emotional care, as well as physical therapy, art therapy and other necessary services.

“This town will be able to replace several family-type orphanages destroyed during the war. We know that more than 100 such institutions were destroyed, and the issue of their restoration is being taken care of by the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska,” Dell Loy Hansen said during the meeting.

He also told the President about the initiative to build residential buildings for homeless elderly people in several regions of Ukraine. A dental clinic, hairdressing and manicure services, a hot food center and a cinema will be provided for the needs of their residents free of charge. Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Dell Loy Hansen for this idea and such important care for the elderly.

Dream Camp

But let’s return to the Gala Camp summer camp. This is an absolutely incredible dream place probably for every child. Since the camp is based in one of the most picturesque corners of our country, the children saw a lot of interesting things. They took a sightseeing tour in Kamianets-Podilskyi, visited the local fortress. There was a separate guided tour to the Kamianets-Podilsky Canyon. Children also went for a walk in the extremely wonderful local Botanical Garden, visited the mysterious “Atlantis” cave, Alpine Park and went for a drive to the Khotyn Fortress. They also visited the Museum of miniatures “Castles of Ukraine”, Museum of money and art gallery. There was also recreation on the pond, the kids could go kayaking and take part in water relays.

“We cooperate with the Rehabilitation and Recovery Center, which organized teambuilding games for children. We also coordinate with the “Rokada” center, which specializes in career guidance techniques, game therapy et al. The Child Protection Center provided art-therapy sessions. This summer camp shift also featured games from Yevhen Klopotenko’s Cult Food culinary project and UNICEF Ukraine. There were also master classes in cookie decoration, painting, and pottery,” Oksana Shakhmatenko reported.

But sport is no less important. So tennis, badminton, bowling, volleyball, football, ping pong competitions wer also organized. There were also many interesting entertaining programs for children: a talent show, a Hawaiian party, “Intuition” show, a Mr. and Miss Camp contest, and the Olympic Games.

“I am very satisfied with the fact that it was possible to take children from Mykolayiv to the camp. This trip was very important for them in terms of socialization. At first it was noticeable that they were, so to speak, a little behind among children from other regions. But later, they became more courageous and self-confident, lifted certain psychological barriers. In other words, they really relaxed and rested. Children were very pleased. The donor was also satisfied, because everything that was promised to him was for 100% fulfilled. So, I hope that he will continue to support us,” the volunteer stated.

There is Hope

A psychological component of the camp, organized by the “HOPE worldwide Ukraine” Charity Foundation is no less important than leisure time.

“Our charitable foundation has been implementing the “Helping Hand for Ukraine” international project. Within its framework, trainers, psychologists, social workers, and teachers are trained to work with traumatized children using the “Children and War. Teaching Recovery Techniques” methodology.

This methodology was developed by experts from Great Britain and Norway. In 2014, they provided free access to their materials. Then the war in Ukraine started and everyone was shocked. And we were looking for a program that can really help in psychological rehabilitation and found it,” Volodymyr Yermakov, President of the “HOPE worldwide Ukraine” shares.

What is the uniqueness of this methodology? First of all, it helps to develop self-help skills. If there is no psychologist next to the child, the child has all the necessary knowledge and skills to cope with their own emotions in any given situation.

“For example, an air raid alarm started. Children who have just came to the camp may be nervous, even cry. And those who have already attended the therapy sessions know that it is possible to do certain exercises and cope with fear, anxiety and bad thoughts,” Volodymyr Yermakov gives an example.

The program is also unique as in many cases it helps to avoid medical treatment and retraumatization. Thus, the child will be able to live a fulfilling life and move forward. By the way, this methodology was also adapted for adults.

Since 2015, “HOPE worldwide Ukraine” has trained people to work with this program. Gradually, all regions of Ukraine were covered, and we cooperated with all the institutions possible: social services, social centers… The program has been officially approved by state, so we have also worked with school psychologists. There was a huge demand for that. Until February 24, 2022, the project had been actively implemented in Eastern Ukraine: in Maryanka, Kurakhove, Avdiivka, Slovyansk, Severodonetsk…

We have trained over 2,000 trainers over the years. And some of those trainers helped the children at the Gala Camp.

Self-Help Psychological Backpack

Psychologist Kateryna Sukenyk told how exactly the work with children in the camp was carried out and what is really important about the “Children and War. Teaching Recovering Techniques” program.

“At the start we need to evaluate the state of children. We tell a ready-made story about Mykhailyk, who saw with his own eyes how two people were killed. After that, children have to “scan” their own emotions with the help of special scales. Next, we evaluate the child’s condition according to three components: intrusion (obsessive thoughts, memories), displacement (avoidance) and hyperarousal. All this is done in order to understand whether the child has post-traumatic stress. Of course, this is not the final verdict on PTSD and more research is needed, but it already gives some insights.

By the way, we always work together with co-trainer, I work with Tetyana Khamelyuk. The fact is that no matter how stress-resistant psychologists are, for us it is also difficult. When a child talks about the horrors of war, we can be overwhelmed with emotions. That is why the other partner takes the initiative while you exhale for a couple of minutes. This is a constant support for each other,” explained Kateryna Sukenyk.

So, after the test, the main work begins, in particular, we learn and practice exercises that can help cope with one’s emotions in different complicated psychological situations.

For example, this is the “square” breathing technique. There is a figure… On one side you need to inhale counting till 4, on the second – hold your breath counting till 4, on the third – exhale counting till 4, and finally – hold your breath counting till 4. This exercise should be repeated 4-5 times.

We also use relaxation techniques. For example, you need to combine three actions. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth counting till 5; stretch your hands forward, squeeze and spread your fists counting till 5; then stand up on your toes and go down counting till 5.

And here is another exercise. You need to stretch two palms forward and imagine that you hold a flower in one hand, and a piece of birthday cake with a candle in the other. So, first you need to smell the imaginary flower, and then blow out the imaginary candle. Beautiful images are also included as a bonus here, because many of us love flowers and sweets. This exercise is calming and relaxing.

“There is a wonderful technique called a “safe place”. We offer children to relax and imagine the safe place. In the groups where there are children with heavy war trauma, we made a small correction of the exercise. We ask them to dive into the place that gives them a resource, energy. And the child can imagine where exactly it could be. Then you need to imagine things nearby, try to “feel” the smell, concentrate on the sounds around you. All this is done in order to move to a place of peace and strength as much as possible. At this moment, many children’s facial expressions change, a smile appears. Next, we ask to imagine a person next to you, someone who is always there and will solve all problems. There are also tears here, maybe a child has lost a close person. But these are tears of purification, a kind of catharsis. We try to explain that our close ones continue to live in our hearts despite everything that could happen.

When children open their eyes, they tell what they have imagined. And they try to support each other” the psychologist says.

According to Kateryna Sukenyk, after completing the program, children gradually learn to face their problems courageously, and not push them away. They learn to manage their own thoughts and their bodies, get rid of anxiety. What is most important, the program provides is a powerful toolkit for self-help. The children now have an imaginary backpack, which contains many psychological tools they can use in difficult situations. And even if they remember only two exercises from the entire “set”, this is already positive.

“We always tell them that even if they don’t need it, they can always help someone who is next to them. We also observe that after completing the program, children become more open, self-confident, they are better at making contact. All masks fall and kindness and sincerity come to shine. And this is very valuable,” concludes the psychologist.”

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