Reede, 02 Juuli 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 26 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
For 69 years, volunteers and community leaders have brought Estonian culture to kids at Jõekääru Estonian Children's Camp. Only the most serious of circumstances could have brought things to a standstill, such as when last summer's programme was cancelled.
And despite the Government of Ontario allowing summer camps to re-open, it was determined that the usual flying-in of counsellors and campers from Estonia could pose a risk to everyone's health.
Still, as I found out when speaking with Elli Kipper, Juhataja
(Camp Director) of Jõekääru, and Monika Roose-Kolga, programming manager of Jõekääru and also the Principal of Toronto Eesti Kool, going through another year without some kind of Jõekääru camp experience was out of the question. Indeed, each visit to the camp is a vital part of Estonian-Canadian children growing up with their culture and making friends.
The camp's leadership wanted to make the best of what was possible, and so they decided to host a virtual camp this summer, announced on June 25th.
Replicating the camp experience virtually will be a challenge. Elli expressed that the most difficult part is allowing for natural conversations and friendships that kids would have in a classroom or camp setting. She notices this in her work as an Eesti Kool teacher, too. Monika echoes this sentiment, saying “It's not the same as living, breathing, and being with each other for 24 hours a day for two weeks, four weeks, or five weeks. But this is what we've got and we'll make the best of it.”
Looking at what's in store for this summer, Jõekääru are truly maximizing the learning opportunities and interpersonal connections between the camp and the global Estonian community.
Elli explains how, in her Eesti Kool teaching, “This year, I had students from Vancouver and California, who would never be able to come to Toronto... And in that same thread, the California kids were saying, 'We want to do virtual laager!'” The kids are enthusiastic about this, to have fun and meet other kids. Logistically speaking, a virtual programme makes it possible for camp attendees to take part as their schedules allow, for as little as just one hour, or throughout the three week programme.
Beyond this summer, increasing opportunities for kids to get together and see each other outside of Udora will be made possible by the addition of fiber-optic internet in camp buildings. This was looked into starting last year, so that kids from all over will always be able to log-in and be a part of Jõekääru. And so, if there were to be an overarching theme for Jõekääru this year, it would be the sense of being together and apart at the same time.
There's a huge range of talents within the Estonian community that camp organizers knew could be shared by community members for programming. However, more individuals volunteered than anticipated, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the virtual camp grow from an initial two weeks to three weeks. Elli says that the sessions on offer also cover the hands-on skills that people have developed throughout lockdowns.
Over the course of three weeks, from Monday July 5th until Friday July 23rd, two virtual sessions will happen each day, from Monday to Saturday. Session topics on the schedule sent out by Jõekääru include drama games and yoga with Kariina Järve, graphic design with Rasmus Rattas, and hip hop dancing with Elis Jaansoo.
There will be cooking, art, and singing, and also activities to get your heart rate up. Things like folk dancing, or family fitness and training with Markus Rosenberg, who has been helping people improve their fitness through his company Fit Culture since 2015. Younger children can learn some Estonian words with the help of some friendly puppets, or relax and listen to bedtime stories.
Monika is hopeful that once the momentum is going, people will want to keep attending sessions. Elli says “I'm looking forward to seeing all the kids that come in and log on, seeing how excited they are...and just being a part of it, too, with them.” She sees the virtual camp as bringing positivity into the community.
When asked whether prior knowledge was needed to take part in sessions, such as singing or folk dancing, Elli made it clear that “All of the instructors right now are making events that everybody can join. Even if kids have done folk dancing for a few years, they'll still enjoy themselves, and also if they're just learning folk dancing for the first time.” The camp wanted activities to be open to everybody, not intimidating, and engaging for parents as well.
With regard to the Estonian language, the camp will continue to target the language abilities of youngsters. Estonian phrases and vocabulary will be brought practically into the sessions, making it easier to learn, through context and visuals.
So how can you access these activities?
If you aren't already receiving communications from Jõekääru, send an email to See e-posti aadress on spämmirobotite eest kaitstud. Selle nägemiseks peab su veebilehitsejas olema JavaSkript sisse lülitatud.
to receive the single Zoom link that will work for all sessions. Sessions are completely free of charge. Daily email reminders will also go out, about each day's instructors and their sessions.
Whether it's making art at the Osvald Timmas Kunsti Tare, exploring the natural setting around Jõekääru, or taking part in talgud
(work days), the hope is that, by the end of July and getting into August, it will be possible for Jõekääru to involve families at the camp on a face-to-face basis.
Still, the extra momentum created by rallying together virtually will positively affect Jõekääru in the coming years, too.
Written by Vincent Teetsov