The story by Klara Galyetova (the initiator and one of the organizers)
The camp idea
The idea of organizing the person-centered camp appeared a long time ago. I wished to see the model of the society where people would be free to be themselves and would be eager to understand and accept each other unconditionally, where everyone could fulfill their potential.
Finally in July 2013 when sufficient people interested in this approach had appeared we organized the camp.
We invited those people to the camp who practiced the person-centered approach in their lives and activities and also those who would like to get to know better this method. People from Moscow, Chuvashia and Mari El participated in our camp. We also had the guests, they were Veniamin Kolpachnikov, the Vice-President of the Russian Society of the PCA, and Einar Columbus Salvesen (Norway), the specialist in Expressive Therapy and Human Resource Development in Organizations.
Total number of participants was 49 people. They were 15 children (1 to 8 years old), 3 teenagers of 16-17 years old and 31 grownups. Some of them were in the camp for weekend, others were for 3-4 days, and 8 people lived in the camp all 10 days.
To say honestly we didn’t expect that so many people would come to the first camp. Thanks to the large number of participants we gained wider and more various experience.
The Camp place
The camp took place on the territory of Chuvashia at the recreation centre on the top of the Volga river bank. There was a magnificent view on the river, tributaries, islets, forest… And all the participants were agreed that the place was astonishingly beautiful!
The atmosphere and relations
We could create the accepting, empathic and genuine environment and to my opinion, it was the most significant achievement supported by several factors.
The first and main was the large number of participants who appreciated the principles of the person-centered approach and tried to use it in their everyday life.
We also didn’t plan the program of the camp except the time of having meal. Everyone could live in accordance with its spontaneously appeared wishes and took part in those events which were interesting. We, the organizers, also tried to listen to ourselves and rejoiced at our life in the Camp. We felt free, natural ourselves and were totally satisfied.
At the end of each day we had 2-3 hour Encounter Groups. We shared our feelings, thoughts and listened and understood to each other. We talked about the here-and-now, about the things that happened beyond the encounter group during the day and things that were important for talking person. Sometimes we just sat in silence. In my opinion, these groups helped us to better understand each other and be closer.
Also there were the situations when we had some difficulties with the owners of the recreation centre and between the participants. However the person-centered approach allowed us to understand why the inharmonious situation occurred and what we could do to rectify it. Very often people were needed to disclose their thoughts and feelings or to listen to others and try to understand them, to find the solution satisfying both sides. That’s what most of us did.
Firstly, it wasn’t clear to me how to react when participants had tension in their relationships and they were not ready for the dialogue (for various reasons). In the camp as a mediator I could help participants to understand each other several times. But one person wasn’t enough for this role.
At this moment I see the following solution: everyone who would like to practice as a mediator informs about it, for example, on the billboard. The message may be as following: “In case of need I can help you to understand each other and be the mediator in resolving the conflict”. So the participants can have the opportunity to turn to the mediators in time and can solve the difficult situations easier and faster. This idea appeared after I saw the notices of the participants like: “I would like to practice empathic understanding”, “If you feel you need to be understood I can listen to you”.
In future I would like to pay more attention to the situations where people’s needs are come across and to react to them in time.
What I’d like to keep and develop
We, the organizers, wanted to experience the self-organized camp. Three months before the opening of the camp we created the group in social network Vkontakte where all potential participants were invited and all the questions were discussed.
We aimed at taking into account all the wishes of the participants: organizational questions, any others related to the camp life. That was not so easy. The organizers were responsible for the coordinating all participants opinions and it took much time and force. We gained very significant experience how this process could be passed through in absentia and understood which questions may be solved by organizers and which ones should be discussed with the participants.
When all participants gathered in the camp it was easier to coordinate our requests by face to face communication rather than by social network. The very first day we put the canvas in the hall on which every participant could pin the sheet of paper with suggestions and notice. At common gatherings every evening after supper we ALTOGETHER decided what we would do the day after.
It was important for us that each participant gained the experience of deciding the general questions, when everybody’s opinion was important and there was an opportunity to develop the skills of:
— expressing oneself so that one can be heard,
— listening and understanding another person,
— reconciling one’s interests with another people’s interests.
I can’t say that during common gatherings we could hear everyone in full measure and could take into account each participant’s needs. Sometimes we simply didn’t want to drag out the decision of organizational questions. At the end we often could reach the agreed decisions. The participants noted that the common gatherings were necessary though I would create more effective form of these meetings.
During last 3 days after the owners of the recreation centre had gone the participants decided the nutrition questions on their own account. First during the common gathering we discussed everyone’s preferences in food then decided how we would take into account all the requests. Two people volunteered to raise money and went to the food store. Someone pinned the sheet of paper on the canvas so that the participants could put down the date and time when they would cook. The meal cooked by the participants was more delicious and various. The sense that we were the members of one family was enhanced.
What I would like to change
Sometimes I faced the situations when it seemed important to do some things but I had neither force nor wish to do them. And I did them reluctantly or didn’t do at all.
For example, I didn’t always want to take pictures of camp’s everyday life but I felt it was important. If I made my need public in time perhaps I could find people who liked taking pictures and as a result we would have more significant and interesting shots.
Another example: almost every day people came to the camp and left it. To make sure that everything would be all right with check-in and nutrition we had to accompany those processes. Besides we had to acquaint incomers with the camp rules and opportunities. It was rather difficult for organizers to welcome each new participant and acquaint him or her with the camp. Now it’s clear that we could find those who would be interested in this activity. They just didn’t know that there was such task.
Now I know that in future we need to announce the tasks during the common gatherings. As a rule, someone expresses the wish to do it or the discussion helps to find out new decisions
I also feel that the potentials of the participants were not fulfilled entirely. For example, one of the participants was ready to conduct French lessons for beginners and to share her experience of participating in unschooling camp. Unfortunately she couldn’t find the way how to realize her idea in the camp and nobody could help her. The opportunity was missed.
To my opinion the experience of self-organization was successful. Most ideas were realized. The mistakes made clear what we could change next time to fully achieve the potentials of self-organization.
Events and activities
In our chat in social network the participants offered the ideas and activities that they would like to realize in the camp. And almost all of them were realized.
The initiators of the events took the responsibility for the organization of those events.
We also watched the film with subsequent lively discussion. We gained the experience of making together the short film in two teams. We had the meeting on lucid dreaming. The classes on historical dances were very popular in the camp. Almost every evening participants wishing to learn to dance waltz, tango, fox trot and others or those who just wanted to move to music gathered on dancing floor.
We had the opportunity to hold the children-parent meeting three or so times. We lived together in various situations with kids in which I and some parents tried to understand and accept the kids and express ourselves. As the meeting unfolded parents had a lot of questions. I wished to talk to them about their concerns but it was rather difficult to do it and to pay attention to kids. I need to think what we can do in future so as parents and kids will able to benefit from the meetings and from the life in the camp as a whole. I guess we need more facilitators who would like to interact with children.
We, the camp organizers, shared our groundwork with the participants. We conducted the presentation of the project The Independent Education System of Russia and presented our experience of The Course of Facilitator Training. We were inspired by the responses of the participants to work on the projects in education. Some of the participants decided to undergo our course.
Within 3 days we had two planned seminars by Einar Columbus Salvesen: A man as a main resource of the business and Self-actualization through self-expression. These seminars much contributed to the person-centered atmosphere of the Camp and impressed a lot of people.
On one of the last days Veniamin Kolpachnikov conducted the presentation The preson-centred approach as the professional practice, cultural movement and individual lifestyle. He told us about the place of the approach in the world and its perspectives. His speech raised a lot of questions and generated much interest. For me and I think for most people face-to-face communication with Veniamin was very significant. He is the one who learned from the first-hand follower of Carl Rogers and does much for the promotion of the person-centered approach in Russia.
Some suggestions on cooperative activities in the camp were occurred right on the spot. For example, poetry reading, instruction on orienting, breathing exercises of Strelnikova, the expressive movement, banya (bath house), singing songs around the fire. And all the activities were organized by the initiators: they advertised and gathered those who wished to take part in, agreed on best time and place available.
Also we bathed in the Volga river, sunbathed, admired the magnificent views, sunrises and sunsets, ate berries and talked much.
Fragments of participants’ responses
On the last day we gathered together to share our impressions. Some participants sent their comments in few time after the Camp.
You can find more responses in our group in Vkontakte. Here are some significant fragments to my mind.
«…I think I’ve never been so close to myself before the camp and that’s thank to the freedom we experienced so I could choose where and when to go or not to go. I began to listen to myself, to understand clearer my feelings and wishes. I want to live such life all the time, with myself and with similar people. Similar not in interests, not in worldview and not in faith. Similar in desire for living in the atmosphere of understanding, acceptance and genuineness».
«… It’s wonderful that in a brief period of time I felt confidence and affection for people some of whom I had met in the camp for the first time. To live in such environment was very valuable for me».
«…I supposed that the relations would be close in the camp and we’d have many discoveries. So it came to pass. Living here touched my heart so much».
«…My children saw people who shared the activity I do. They tasted the life in the person-centered society and impressed the willingness to live such life all the time».
«… Here I could be myself to a grater degree than in usual life. I feel I’ve become different all these days. Something very significant has happened».
«… The experience of self-organization was very interesting and I saw the real results of it. That is very remarkable form of the camp organization and potentially very abundant».
«… Observing how people had expressed themselves I understood that often I wasn’t myself in my life. That was a true revelation to me».
«… Before I came to the camp I had known about this approach nothing. But living here I began to notice that unconsciously I’d been bringing it to my life (for example, talking to my relatives by the phone). It was surprising for me».
«…Here I first experienced free instruction to dance and I had some reference points for further development».
«… I liked the feeling of the family that had occurred by the end of the camping time. Very pleasing feeling. I liked living in the camp and would come here again».
«… It was a firsthand experience of self-development. I couldn’t even imagine that some important questions would be touched upon here. It was a great surprise».
«… I had very interesting experience of confidence in the process. The acceptance of the process as it was let me feel calm myself. I just came to this empty room, did what I wanted and didn’t worried. I was absolutely calm. People came too. Without my anxiety, nervousness, activity. It was cool. Very valuable experience».
«… I liked the atmosphere that prevailed in the camp. It was very easy to cooperate with people whom I saw for the first time».
«I began to understand the feelings of people who were close to me and had the opportunity to do what I had never had to do in usual life – to take care and to help».
«…I imagine the casket filled with precious jewels. The casket is me and the jewels are the fragments of something very significant and valuable that I have received in the camp».
«… At certain stage of living in the camp I felt the unity with the camp participants. There were something uniting and sincere in our encounter groups. I can’t say if I have had such feeling before».
«… I SAW that in the accepting, empathic and genuine environment people understood what is REALLY IMPORTANT for them. That was very significant for me. I keep making sure of the force of free person-centered education. It allows people to grow mentally, influences on their behavior and sense of self».
«… I saw that the participants had their own fears, doubts, they also attempted, run risks and looked for the answers to the same questions as I had. People became to me closer, more understandable and I began to notice that they were beautiful in their way».
«… The camp was very profitable for me though I came here without any expectations. Now I have the image of the person-centered society»!
The continuation of the project
Most people are waiting for the next camp. We’d like to organize it in summer 2014. We invite everyone who is interested in our experience and who would like to share it with us!
Klara Galyetova 2013