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Summer Camp In Ukraine

Ukraine Summer Camp Featured

The chances of finding any summer camp in a war-torn country like Ukraine would seem unlikely, but it’s here where the role of summer camp and its diversions and merriment become even more important.

Summer camp has a way of evoking joy. What starts as a break from routine turns into a season of excitement that can only exists when school is out of session.

“We had a child last summer who said, ‘This is the first time I’ve been happy since the war started,'” Steve Benham, president of Music in World Cultures (MIWC), said.

MIWC held two summer camps in the Ukrainian regions of Khotiv and Mukachevo in 2022. In both regions, it served children who lived in the cities prior to the war, and newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) who came after fleeing homes in Eastern Ukraine. Nearly half the children who attend the summer camp in Mukachevo were IDPs. Those living in the town permanently faced an equally difficult reality, as parents struggled to provide for the influx of people amid hyperinflation and unemployment. The need for summer programming in both areas was strong.

MIWC had organized several camps in Ukraine in the years leading up to the war, but none of them compared to the ones held during war, when the sound of balloons popping triggered memories of bombings that had destroyed sacred places from a childhood once lived. 

“There’s no ‘post’ in post-traumatic stress if you’re still living in the middle of trauma,” Benham said. 

In moments of stress and trauma “you don’t think about anything else other than your survival,” Benham said. “Your body gets a shot of adrenaline…It’s a necessary assistance to help you survive, but you can’t live on adrenaline.”

Fifteen months since the start of the war, however, many children in Ukraine still are and have not had any time to process the trauma they’ve experienced. 

MIWC is returning to Khotiv and Mukachevo this summer to hold two week-long summer camps in July. By exploring the sounds of different instruments and participating in group singing activities, children will develop tools to help them process the emotions that arise from trauma. 

Music has multi-sensory capacities that activate the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for nonverbal communication. It also stimulates dopamine in the brain, a chemical which can help children build new neural pathways that “reprogram” their brains to be less impacted by trauma. 

“The gift from BBF to these camps allows us to be able to focus on the work, to focus on the mission, and we’re so appreciative of that,” Benham said. “It says to this child that somebody values them and we get to be the messengers of that.”

Brother’s Brother Foundation has given MIWC a grant to help send 120 children to this year’s camps. Funding will go toward covering some of the camps’ largest and most vital expenses, including food for daily meals and fuel for transportation. 

At a time when Ukraine’s economy is particularly volatile, BBF’s support will help ensure the camps continue despite any unexpected changes. It will also allow staff at MIWC spend less time fundraising and more time preparing for the program.

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