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Recreational education: the mark of Cuba on Artek

Moscow. The Artek International Children’s Centre is today emerging as the largest institution of its kind in the world, with nine camps set on ​​218 hectares boasting an attendance of forty thousand children in 2018.

 

Text and photos: Antonio Rondón

 

Created in 1925 on the Black Sea coast, it is nearing the centenary of its rich history of solidarity and mutual support where clear thinking, educational research and the training of future national and international specialists are promoted.

Artek, after a period of decline and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, has begun a new phase of regeneration becoming a centre for the creation, testing and application of innovative approaches in general education, health and relaxation. In 2016, the enormous children’s centre boasting an area comparable to the principality of Monaco became a member of the International Children’s Camps Association (ICF).

In achieving this, it boasts the Kiparisni, Lazurni (one of the largest), Polevoi, Rechni, Oziorni (completely modernized), Jrustalni, Yantarni and Morskoi (one of the first) camps.

The Russian government is attempting to turn the centre into a huge laboratory for teaching methods, relationship building and the development of future management executives, hence its investment in the project of 13 billion rubles (206,188,000 dollars) between 2014 and 2018.

The building site for the facilities covered an area of ​​280 thousand square meters.

The facility also has a permanent school with a capacity for 1,244 students and 300 educators whose average age is just 37, and 500 ‘young pioneer’ guides (called bazhati), between 18 and 25 years of age.

In the centre, groups of 21 are created that are known in Russia as smena (‘change’, if translated literally). Each of them undergoes an intense and comprehensive schedule of activities and instruction.

In general, each smena is sponsored by a body, which can be the Foreign Ministry: a fact which led Maria Zajarova to act as its spokeswoman; and to Vasili Nobenzin to be its Russian representative at the United Nations,

By 2024, on the eve of its centenary, the children’s centre expects to achieve an attendance level of 60 thousand children a year.

Education through recreation

Education as part of recreation appears to be one of the most welcomed traditions for those passing through the Artek International Children’s Centre which has existed for 94 years on the shores of the Black Sea in the Crimea.

The facility has the merit or magic of transforming every child who passes through its gates – upon which they are immediately subjected to intense coaching in three areas: friendship, solidarity and knowledge.

Artek was the result of a noble idea proposed by those whose clear aim it was to mould the ‘new man’ with humane values and worldly knowledge; and to teach them, during a short spell there, to take advantage of the full gamut of possible skills and knowledge available.

The formula that emerged almost a century ago is taking on a new look. This is in line with statements made by President Vladimir Putin advocating the restoration of the Soviet Union’s positive values. And Artek appears to be one of these.

By 2021, Artek is expected to boast 11 camps and by 2025, its centenary year, it aims to achieve two million visitors.

In each smena it is the guides’ (bazhati ) duty to endow the children with as broad a knowledge base as is possible, instil in them a sense of solidarity and teamwork and provide them with avenues through which their creativity can be stimulated, through which they can find themselves.

Hence the bazhati, many of whom have teaching knowledge, are specially trained at Artek.

The most experienced among them assert that to properly prepare a prospective bazhati they need to gain experience with at least five smena, since this is the best teacher training possible.

As 95 percent of the places are granted by way of a skills assessment with a specific rating* included in an application form sent by Internet, only last year children from as many as 84 regions in Russia with different cultures and educational and social backgrounds travelled to Artek.

Children can send in drawings, works of art, speeches, musical awards, scientific projects, literary essays and any other submission that makes them stand out in order to achieve the necessary score, which, automatically, is determined by a centralized system.

Only five percent of places are paid for, but even then there is competition between children attempting to get into Artek through this route.

Cuba’s mark

One of the first groups from Cuba arrived in Artek in 1961. Between August and September of that year, a Cuban delegation came to one of the smena in the the Aziorni camp and among them was Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, according to that centre’s files.

In 1974, the first election of heads of pioneer associations of socialist countries was held in Artek, in which delegates from the island participated and in 1977, in smena 6, Raisa Viera Hernández, a ten-year-old girl, was elected president for foreign delegations.

In addition, in 1978, Artek hosted an event in recognition of the 11th World Festival for Young People and Students, held that year in the Caribbean nation.

Artek is quite simply akin to a great big hug, says director Konstantin Fedorenko, who told Prensa Latina that for the moment the centre he runs has been used as an example and been rolled out to three other facilities in Russia and two outside the country: Mongolia and Bulgaria.

We send our facility and management experts and the bazhati give practical classes; and later experts from other regions and countries come to work at Artek. That way, we convey our knowledge about the method, he asserted.

For Fodorenko, his main concern can be summed up with one enduring question he puts to the children: what did they not like? (PL)

(Translated by Nigel Conibear)

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