“Come as Strangers, Leave as Friends”
Camp St. Basil has been serving Ukrainian Catholic children from Edmonton and its surrounding area for over 70 years. Every year, it stays true to its slogan; children arrive at camp as strangers, and leave as friends. While this year was no different from previous years, it took a step further and united children from different countries.
This year, after three years of closure due to COVID-19 and the completion of renovations, Camp St. Basil hosted 65 campers, aged 7-14 years, from July 3-9. 33 of these campers were children who had fled their homes in Ukraine when Russia advanced their invasion in February of 2022. The Canada-Ukraine Foundation, in conjunction with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, were generous enough to provide Camp St. Basil with a grant to fully cover the fees for all 33 Ukrainian national campers.
At the request of Bishop David, Camp St. Basil worked in collaboration with Camp Oselia to create both the catechetical and recreational programs for the two camps. As well, many of the staff and volunteers were involved with both camps. One of the several positive outcomes of this collaboration was a wider range of resources to use, which removed several stressful aspects from both camps. This allowed in-person camp post-COVID to return with greater ease.
Throughout the week, campers were able to regularly take part in outdoor activities including, archery, soccer drills and games, nature walks, swimming, and canoeing. As well, they had the chance to improve their artistic skills with painting, drama games, and dancing. Although we omitted our traditional daily Ukrainian language classes, the entire week turned into one great big language lesson, with the campers teaching each other English and Ukrainian phrases. Even the counsellors got to learn some Ukrainian!
Each day included a Divine Liturgy, along with the opportunity for the campers to receive the Mystery of Holy Confession. During our catechism lessons throughout the week, the campers learnt about the History of Salvation through the stories of Adam and Eve, the Roots of Abraham, the Nativity of Christ, the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and the Eucharist. In addition to these more structured classes, the campers learnt several valuable lessons on sharing, respect, inclusion, and the importance of mutual friendship.
Throughout the week, the campers learnt different ways to pray. Singing was one of the main methods of prayer that we incorporated into our daily schedule. Each day we started the morning with a song based on Psalm 113:3, and each night concluded with singing the Jesus Prayer in English and Ukrainian, either around the campfire or in the hallway of the dorms. When we learnt about and celebrated the Nativity of Christ, we sang traditional Ukrainian and English Christmas carols. On the day we celebrated Christ’s Resurrection, we sang Khrystos Voskres, Christ is Risen loud enough for the Lutheran Camp next door to hear us!
One of the biggest highlights of the events of the week was a shaving cream and mud fight, thanks to the ongoing rain during the first part of the week. After several campers slipped in the mud and got their clothes dirty, we decided to take advantage of what nature had given us. The evening was filled with lots of laughter and happy memories, and was of course followed by showers for everyone!
Another highlight of our week was our traditional dance on the last night of camp. Campers put on their nicest, and cleanest, clothing, did their hair up, and discussed with each other who they were going to dance with. Dance songs ranged from the Chicken Dance and the Macarena, to the newest songs of both North America and Ukraine. The dance concluded with the campers showing off their best moves during a Kolomeyka, and then one final campfire.
This year’s camp had such a lasting impact on the campers and staff alike. Welcoming the children into our camp after the disruption and devastation of the COVID pandemic and the ongoing war and invasion of Ukraine was a true honour. Our goal was to provide our campers with a week filled with faith, friendship, and fun. It is safe to say that with the help of our dedicated volunteers, our goal was accomplished.
A special thank you goes out to Fr. Thomas Kobak, OSBM, Fr. Josafat Khaimyk, OSBM, and Fr. Bo Nahachewsky for their hard work and enthusiasm in putting together the program and ensuring that the grounds of Camp St. Basil were ready for the campers. Thank you to Joe and Pat Synyshyn for feeding us all wonderfully cooked food. And of course, thank you to all of our counsellors and volunteers; this camp would not have been possible without all of your hard work and dedication. Last, but definitely not least, this successful summer camp would not have been possible without the guidance and leadership of our camp director, Victoria Kostyniuk, who ensured that Camp St. Basil was an outstanding success.