Summer Camp for Chernobyl Kids - Kinderlager Tschernobyl Volunteerism is alive and well in Switzerland

Ukrainian children continue to suffer the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986. Learn about how an expat/Swiss volunteer group hosts Ukrainian children at an annual summer camp in Switzerland.

Ukrainian children continue to suffer the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986. The following year an ad-hoc group established a summer camp in Switzerland for the children from the Luginy District of Zhitomyr, near Chernobyl.

For the past 12 years, members of the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs of Augst and Liestal (Canton Basel Land) support and operate the camp in Ste. Croix in Canton Vaud; the camp director is Theo Schäfer. The mission of the camp is to promote daily care and grooming, good health and hygienic habits while offering a cultural and recreational environment for 37 to 42 children aged 10 to 12.

The School Commission of Basel City rents a mobile dental lab; the Swiss Military rents a mobile X-Ray machine. Two dental surgeons, Monika Isaak and Ursula Bichweiler, donate two weeks every summer providing dental care; two of their assistants give one week. During the first two weeks all campers spend time in the dental chair. Urs Oechsli, another dentist, and his wife Rita also volunteer for a week, but as chefs daily preparing all meals plus three snacks for 50 people.

One Saturday afternoon, the owner of Ramstein Optik, Andreas Bichweiler, arrived with a portable eye-examining machine. Only four children required eyeglasses, which they received the following week.

How does one feed so many? With a combination of the free basic supplies from the Swiss Table in St. Suplice, from Basel Land farmers offering meat, eggs, honey augmented by daily runs to the local Migros. We were unaccustomed to shopping for recipes starting with "take 50 eggs, potatoes", etc.!

Without the aid of the Swiss Table and the heartfelt concern and generosity of the staff at the local Migros, we could not have served all meals and snacks for the campers, volunteers and visitors.

Ruth and Susanne Lüthi were the chefs during my week as a volunteer "chopper". The camaraderie of the volunteers, coupled with the enthusiasm of the youngsters who joined in with the chores, compensated for the aching legs and feet.

Outings included hiking, swimming, visiting farms, and a local music-box museum. The children scheduled for dental work stayed behind and willingly helped in the kitchen. The talented Lüthi sisters introduced unusual activities. One was what to do with pits after pitting 50 kilos of cherries.

Every year the campers return home with a new wardrobe of jeans, shirts, anoraks & fleece-jackets – all donated. The CEOs of Lowa Shoes AG & Jungfrau Railways invite everyone to lunch at the Harder Kulm Restaurant, following which the children donned new Lowa hiking boots. This year Victorinox contributed a pocketknife engraved with each camper's name.

My first time as a volunteer ended all too quickly; my legs are gearing up for another chopping, shopping and rewarding week in 2015.

Kinderlager Tschernobyl (Kid's Camp Chernobyl) is a tax-deductible society. Make a donation: 4103 Binningen, Postcheck account number 60-618418-3.

Find out more about volunteering with Kid's Camp Chernobyl - simply get in touch, or like us on Facebook!

Author: Kevin J.P. Kearney

KEVIN J. KEARNEY, a 1957 Graduate of the School of Management, Boston University, took early retirement from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland after creating the Information Technology Service. He and Shirley chose to live in Basel because of what Shirley refers to as “the 3 C’s” – contacts, culture and convenience.

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