St Andrew’s College proudly hosted the sixth consecutive annual camp for children with disabilities sponsored by the Sony Foundation. The 2017 camp ran from the 30 November – 3 December, providing four fun-filled, action-packed days for the twenty children who participated. The camp is entirely student-led, predominately by an organising committee of seven St Andrew’s students from a mixture of years, who began organisation in late March.
Prior to the camp, the forty-five student volunteers from St Andrew’s and the wider university community, spent two days transforming our College from a learning space and residence for university-age students to a colourful, activity-filled haven for children. They attended professional seminars from organisations such as Guide Dogs Australia and spent time preparing for the week ahead.
The disabilities that the campers possess on camp are varied; some are physical such as complete blindness, while others include Autism, Down Syndrome and Global Development Delay. This event is run for its incredible value in several areas. While there is the obvious significance of giving these kids an opportunity to enter a new, welcoming environment where the sole focus is on their wants and needs, there are also much deeper impacts. Firstly, the camp provides these kids with the often unprecedented opportunity to form a bond with young people outside of their own family. The campers really appreciate having a ‘mate’ for the week who understands them. This year, one of our campers made sure he took home the numbers of at least ten of the volunteers that he had gotten to know, so that he could keep in touch, while another camper even received an invitation to his companion’s Christmas Day lunch. Beyond this, the camp provides much-needed respite to the families of the campers. The needs that these kids have on a day to day basis requires unimaginable emotional and physical engagement from their families, which can be exhausting for loved ones. The St Andrew’s camp allows the primary carers of the children to have a well-deserved break, which is much appreciated whether it is used to spend time with their other children, to go travelling, or even simply to spend time cleaning the house! Finally, this camp supports St Andrew’s College’s relentless support and encouragement of giving back to the community.
The structure of the camp places volunteers into three categories: Companions, Helpers, and Media Team. Companions are assigned to a single camper for the week and are ultimately responsible for that child solely over the four days. Their role requires them to assist their camper in eating, showering and the bedtime processes, while also hanging out with them during the day and encouraging them to participate in the various provided activities. Needless to say, the resulting bond that forms is exceptional. Twelve volunteers are also given the role of helper and have the task of being the behind-the-scenes workers. The Helpers assist with the set-up and pack up of activities and also take initiative to sub-in for companions to give them their own rest time each day as they see fit. These students complete all small jobs that make the day-to-day running of the camp possible. Finally, a team of three is chosen to be the camp’s dedicated media team. The team takes countless photos and hours of video footage. This is then compiled into a video to provide a lasting memory for the families. All in all, the camp is equipped with plenty of help!
The arrival of the children on 30 November was highly anticipated by the volunteers, most of whom were experiencing some nervousness, but all were incredibly excited for what was to come. The campers arrived in the morning and settled in happily after being introduced to their companion for the week. This was a notable achievement in itself given that for many of these children this was the first time away from home. All campers and volunteers enjoyed getting to know one another through exciting activities such as water games and a jumping castle, a petting zoo that featured Shetland pony rides, cricket, and a karaoke night!
The following day was jam-packed! It was an early start for some, with a few eager campers up as early as 4am. The morning kicked off with a visit from the Feature Creatures gang, who showed off some creepy crawlies, snakes, lizards, turtles and even a baby crocodile! The kids loved it – I think there were a few companions who were taken out of their comfort zone around the animals rather than the kids! There was hardly enough time to have some morning tea before the team from Drumability arrived to run a bongo session with our campers. That afternoon we packed up and embarked on an exciting trip out to Cook and Phillip Pool in the city. The campers absolutely loved the water and we even had one child who went swimming for the first time in their life. Once we returned, Andrew’s alumni Miki Williams taught the kids some new moves in her Dancability session, which was perfect preparation for the disco that evening! The disco was lit – certainly a good way to ensure that the dance floor of the Highlander was put to good use even in the summer!
Day three kicked off with some free time where the kids could enjoy craft, a jam session in the music room or even take a golf buggy around for a spin on the oval! We then headed off on another excursion, this time out to Manly Beach. Despite whether conditions that predicted it to be stormy, we had some incredible luck with a blue-sky day. The kids were sent off in small boats and sailed around the harbour with the help of the gang from Sailability. This was a real treat for many of the campers, some of whom had never been in a boat before, or hailed from rural Australia and hadn’t experienced the sea. After a big day at the beach, there were many volunteers and campers taking the bus ride home as an opportunity for a bit of shut eye. Upon return, a science show was set up where the campers could perform various experiments such as making their own slime or provoking volcanos to erupt. After this, we decorated cookies and parked up in the common room for a big screening of the movie Moana.
On the final day of the camp, the kids (and volunteers!) were treated to a visit from the fire truck, another jumping castle, face painting, and a slip’n’slide – all before lunch! Following this, the arrival of the campers’ families to join the children and volunteers for lunch was a very special moment. Seeing families reunite was one thing, but talking to parents and siblings about their few days of respite brought tears to our eyes. Some parents had not had a full night’s sleep, not to mention a full day off, since their children had been born. It sure is a large commitment to assume sole responsibility and 24/7 care for twenty children with special needs, and the volunteers should be very proud of their achievement in being part of such a successful camp. During the lunch, we had a surprise visit from a very special guest – Santa Claus! Santa provided a personalised gift to all our campers, who were absolutely stoked to receive a toy fire truck, personal craft kit and even a stuffed life sized dinosaur! Liv O’Connor then formally closed the camp, thanking everyone for making the week as wonderful as possible.
A big thank you is deserved for the 2017 committee of Liv O’Connor, Andrew Dossetor, George Stribling, Erin Wright, Izzy Payne, Declan Drake and Lachy Barrett for running such a fulfilling and valuable week for all involved. The selection of the 2018 camp committee is currently underway, and soon enough, applications for volunteers will be open. The countdown is on until the doors of St Andrew’s are opened up again to an exceptional pool of awesome children. Thank you to all the parents for sharing your kids with us and their awesome quirks, we hope to see you again next year!
- Olivia O’Connor (fr 2016)