You've spent a week in a German intentional community near Kassel. Tell us about this place.

Olga Rybakina: The Niederkaufungen intentional community has been around for about 30 years. In its early years, only several people lived there; now, its population amounts to about 50 people. Every once in a while, there are guests visiting the commune. We lived on the community territory in a house where they hold conferences. The camp's organizers paid for the house; the money went to the community's account and the residents spend it on their needs. It's worth mentioning that money is not used inside the community.

Ilya Bokatiy: We only had one day to acquaint ourselves with the Niederkaufungen and the people living there: we were given a tour where we learned how they live, solve emerging issues and interact with each other. I have to admit that their society operates in peculiar ways. For instance, every month they have a meeting where they discuss the community's current problems and their possible solutions; I was surprised to learn that they invite an outsider to act as a moderator.

Who participated in the camp?

O. R.: Altogether, there were 17 students from Russia, Ukraine, and Germany. SCI, the ones who organized this camp, collaborates with different volunteer organizations across the world, for example, the Russian organization SFERA, through which we applied for the seminar. Other participants also came from similar volunteer centers that SCI collaborates with.

The Niederkaufungen intentional community
The Niederkaufungen intentional community

What is camp leading about? Why is it necessary to learn such skills?

O. R.: Actually, in this camp, they called camp leaders "camp coordinators". You see, they replaced the more authoritarian term "leader" with a more tolerant one; in all other respects, the meaning remained the same. A camp coordinator is a camp's participant who is responsible for its organization: they do the preparations before the start of the session and coordinate it from the beginning to its end. Camp coordinators help establish communication between the participants and the receiving side, coordinate the volunteers' work and organize their free time, as well as organize various events, like team-building practices and such. Ilya and I are camp coordinators for the international camp in Yagodnoe that takes place every summer.

Please tell more about the educational aspect of the training; what did you find most useful?

I. B.: Everything in this program was useful to us, as we had the experience of organizing an international camp, but lacked practical knowledge on how to make the process simpler for both participants and organizers. In our camps, we mostly used an approach when we developed a detailed program; still, if some participant doesn't get involved in the process, or stopps being involved after some time - all this work goes for nothing.

O. R.: At the camp, they expanded on how to involve participants in the camp's organization. The self-organization approach implies that you transfer some of your authority to participants, for instance, they get to decide on their schedule, on who does the chores and what to do in their free time. One has to consider that participants come from different countries, they know lots of things, and each has their unique experience that they are willing to share. Hence, you don't really need a detailed program that you strictly follow. Back at the camp in Germany, I once said that I wanted to dance, and the next day, we had a dancing workshop.

German-Ukrainian-Russian training in camp coordination
German-Ukrainian-Russian training in camp coordination

Which were the topics discussed at the camp?

I. B.: A significant part of the educational program was dedicated to ecology issues. The camp was completely vegetarian. Apart from being experienced camp coordinators, our hosts lead a very eco-friendly lifestyle. For example, one of the coordinators separates garbage into 15 different categories, the other does food sharing, and so on. We had a program on ecology and learned a lot about the lifestyle of common Germans and its aspects that have to do with solving ecological issues. What is more, some of the participants organized small games where they presented their take on different ecological problems. For instance, there was a great idea of depicting the water shortage in different regions of the world by placing glasses with water on a world map.

Germans are well-known for their high level of ecological awareness. How does it manifest apart from things like garbage separation?

I. B.: You have to consider that we communicated with very committed Germans, but the overall level of awareness in Germany is also higher than in Russia. This is why raising the ecological awareness of the population is a global task of our Eco Raids project. One of the explanations for this high level of awareness is that the German government spends a lot of resources on ecology. This reminds me of one of my childhood experiences: when I was 10, it was the first time that I went to Germany with a group of tourists. We went on a Russian double-decker bus. When we arrived in Berlin, we left the bus in the city center and went for a walk; by the time we returned, the bus was no longer there as it turned out that it had been confiscated by the officials because its fuel greatly contributed to environmental pollution. At that time, this was a real shock for us.


O. R.: It is very important that such issues are brought up at the national level. Though there are attempts in St. Petersburg to raise the ecological awareness and organize separate waste collection points, such initiatives rarely have governmental support, so the process goes very slowly. For example, I know that representatives of the Kind Bottletops organization visit schools and encourage children to collect plastic bottle tops; also, there are regular events on separate waste collection in different districts. Surely, that is not nearly enough, but it's great that particular local organizations conduct such activities. We also witness attempts to improve the situation by the city administration. It is known that they plan to set containers for separate waste collection in the Petrogradsky District. This is great news, and we hope that the same will be done in other of the city's districts.

At the camp, were there any discussion topics that you never brought up in your Ecological Raids project?

I. B.: Yes, those were the issues of globalization's effect on ecology and the topic of virtual water. The former has to do with the vast amount of resources spent on transporting raw materials and end products. Let's say that you buy sneakers by a famous brand that are often manufactured in Indonesia or other countries with cheap labor force. First of all, the product will have to go a long way before it reaches the customer. What's more, it's quite common that there are no raw materials for the product in the country it is being manufactured in, so those are also being delivered. As a result, great amounts of fuel are spent on transportation, which has a negative effect on ecology. And this is just a single example.

O. R.: The issue of "virtual water" is yet to be addressed in our country. Most people never think about the actual volume of water that is spent on manufacturing different products, common hair binders, for instance. What's more, wastewater is rarely purified and is usually dumped into natural waters.

Ecological Raids camp
Ecological Raids camp

I. B.: There are so many topics that you can't really discuss all of them, especially when you only have two weeks like we do in our Ecological Raids project. So, we were mostly taught methods of working with camp participants. For example, we attended a lecture on religious, national, and other stereotypes and methods of dealing with them. It appears that there's a simple and effective way: first, you identify the stereotype, and then discuss it in a group.

Will you introduce any new ideas and formats in the Ecological Raids camp this summer?

O. R.: Despite the fact that we were training to be camp coordinators, we had coordinators of our own at the camp, so we got to experience what being a camp participant is like. This was a very important experience, as we got to test the new formats, training sessions, and ideas on ourselves - all these new instruments that can help us establish better communication with participants and motivate them. It was great that there were no regular lectures: we participated in workshops and discussions, and played games; everything was highly interactive, which helped us to always stay involved.

I. B.: They had really good formats for conducting educational events at the camp. For instance, the English Tea Breakfast format. The idea is that there are several tables with tea served; there's a host at each table who waits for a team of participants to join them. Each team is offered a topic they have to discuss, and the host writes down the key points. This format gives the participants the opportunity to communicate and share knowledge.

Ecological Raids camp
Ecological Raids camp

As far as I know, the Ecological Raid camp will host several events in which non-participants will be able to take part, as well.

I. B.: Yes. For now, we invite everyone to come to Yagodnoe on June 29 and take part in our eco-festival. We've prepared a music program, booths and projects where one can learn how to make their everyday life more environmentally friendly, and much more. You can register for the event here.