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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Special Kids Enjoy Summer Camp

PSKOV, Western Russia -- Faced with the task of helping both handicapped kids and the able-bodied children of refugees, the Pskov Red Cross decided to bring them together.

Seventy children, 41 of them from families of forced migrants, 29 of them disabled children from the Pskov School for Children with Local Motor Difficulties No. 6, are enjoying three weeks together at the Rodnik summer camp, which is 40 kilometers away from Pskov in the forest next to a small, picturesque lake, where problems of fitting in and being different don't loom so large.

"These children face similar problems - psychological, social and economic," said Pyotr Vasilevsky, executive director of the Pskov Red Cross and one of the initiators of the project. "By bringing them together, we hoped that they would be able to communicate with one another much more easily than with other peers.

"Since these kids' problems are similar, they would understand each other and through helping each other would gain more self-confidence, which most of them naturally lack."

The Pskov Red Cross, which came up with the idea, received help paying for the $10,000 camp program from the Pskov region Center for Family and Children's Rehabilitation and Recreation and the Pskov branch of the Federal Migration Service.

Vasilevsky admitted that they had a few fears about the program since the whole concept is new in Russia. Besides being afraid of not having enough staff and special equipment for the camp, Vasilevsky said that many of the people who organized it were worried about how the kids would actually get along with one another.

But a week after the camp's Aug. 3 opening, it was clear that the fears were unfounded. The children in all of the six groups of about a dozen were already friends and having fun together.

The campers are awakened by an accordion at 8:30 a.m. and spend the day on activities like chess and checkers, a table tennis tournament, arts and crafts workshops, relay races and pioneer ball, which is like volleyball but with less strict rules.

"We like this camp a lot," said Yulia Medvedeva, 14, almost simultaneously with her twin sister, Natalya. Their family moved to Pskov region from Taldy-Korgan, a city in southern Kazakhstan. "There are all these competitions and other interesting things we do."

Their brother Ilya, 9, was sitting next to them. "Today I was peeling potatoes and earned 5 rubles," he said proudly. The camp organizers decided to reward children with specially issued camp money for doing extra work. The children can spend their "wages" in a local "shop" that sells sweets and drinks.

"There is nothing bad in rewarding their work financially," psychologist Galina Kirillova said. "Nobody wanted to peel potatoes before. As soon as we started paying for it, there was a line for three days ahead."

Kirillova holds special classes with children trying to learn more about the problems they have in order to help solve them. "This is the first time that I have had a talk with a psychologist and I really like it," said Yekaterina Bogataya, 14, who before moving to Pskov lived in Latvia.

The counselors, two for every group, come from the Pskov school for the disabled. There is also an assistant to the counselors and two Red Cross volunteers for every group.