The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early ‘90s eliminated the social and economic supports that had existed for people in need. Without government aid, many families found themselves unable to care for their children. Those children ended up on the streets, in train stations, in abandoned buildings and, if they were lucky, in orphanages. Unfortunately, the conditions that led to this need persists today.
In 1997, after visiting these children twice each year, Island artist Janie Ekberg realized that bringing money, medicine, clothing, and supplies was just not enough. What these kids needed was love, sunshine, play and other happy young people!
For twenty years the communities of Bainbridge Island, Washington and Novosibirsk, Russia cultivated cross-cultural relationships through theater, artist and student exchanges. Some of those have focused on the needs of Russian children who have been especially hard hit by the massive changes in the post-Soviet Russian economy.
It is those children who sparked the idea for Camp Siberia. Starting in 1999, Janie Ekberg in Washington and Natasha Syrykh in Novosibirsk laid the groundwork for Camp Siberia. For eleven years, dedicated volunteers in both countries brought their dream into reality, providing an American-style summer camp experience for Russian orphans between the ages of 5 and 17.
Until 2014, Camp Siberia’s program also included vital support for orphans as they left the orphanage and attempted to build productive lives on their own. Vocational and academic opportunities were sometimes available to these young people, but without homes or family support, many were unable to follow that course. Our Russian partner, Natasha Syrykh, met regularly with our ‘scholarship’ recipients, mentoring them and providing life skills training to enable them to pursue their academic and vocational dreams. We supported students following courses in agricultural management, teaching, medicine, cosmetology, costume design and sports training.
A CHANGE IN COURSE
2011 marked Camp Siberia’s last trip to Novosibirsk and in 2014 our last scholarship recipient finished their studies. Camp Siberia started a new chapter in 2013 by shifting our focus to Kitezh.
David Kroman, a Camp Siberia 2005 alum, went back to Russia in the winter and spring of 2007 to live and volunteer in a community of foster families southwest of Moscow. The community is called Kitezh, named for a mythical city said to have disappeared in the time of the Mongols. It is made up of about 60 adults and children. Since the mid-1990s, Kitezh has fostered children from Moscow area orphanages, giving them a family, a school, and a community to grow up in. In June 2013, Camp Siberia-Kitezh took a group of 15 sophomores and juniors to volunteer in this wonderful place. Kitezh and Camp Siberia fit perfectly in their goals to enrich the lives, not only of the foster children, but anyone who comes to Kitezh. It is a magical place.
Several years and several successful trips later in concert with Kitezh the program evolved to the point where the name Camp Siberia no longer made sense. In the summer of 2015 the name was changed to Bainbridge Island-Kitezh to better fit the goal of providing Bainbridge Island youth with an opportunity to experience Kitezh. For their part, Kitezh has continued to integrate the Bainbridge Island teams into their summer activities. They look forward to getting a team of hard working, fun and loving kids from the little island in America. We continue to evolve and write the next chapters in the history of Camp Siberia and now, Bainbridge Island-Kitezh.
Bainbridge Island-Kitezh is a registered 501(c)3 organization run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Tax-deductible donations are essential to supplement the fundraising efforts of Ambassadors, parents and the Board of Directors. Your contributions help keep this wonderful cultural opportunity for both Bainbridge Island and Russian youth a reality.