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Camp Liberté: A Valuable Experience for Residents

By: Cathryn Sibbald, MD

This summer marked the 7th consecutive year of Camp Liberte, which took place from July 26 to 31st at Camp Papillon, just north of Montreal. There was a large team helping throughout the week, including our supervising dermatologist Dre Danielle Marcoux, myself, Marie-Claude Ouelette (4th year dermatology resident from the University of Laval), Ali Shahbaz, 3rd year Medical student from Ottawa, 2 nurses (Isabelle Lavoie and Claude Belleville), and 4 other volunteers (Simon Claveau, Raphaël Claveau, Laetitia Amar, and Rémi Fortin).

The camp was attended by 21 children with a wide variety of skin disorders; including psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, vascular malformations and alopecia. The group came from all across Canada, from Alberta to Newfoundland, with a mix of both French and English speaking children.

From the moment we arrived, the camp was filled with great enthusiasm and energy. The schedule was packed with lots of fun activities, including canoeing, scavenger hunts, swimming, bonfires and even a talent show! A team of counselors from the camp ran the activities, and the volunteers were able to participate in activities while being present in case of any medical events or questions. A clear highlight of the week was an afternoon at the Arbraska Park where the participants were able to go zip lining as well as climb across balance logs and monkey cables through the trees. Another highlight was a new activity, an educazoo, where children were able to get up close and hold a variety of animals including frogs, lizards, and even a snake!

One of the key roles of the medical team is helping the children apply their topical medications and creams. We worked with each child to ensure they had the right amount of medication in all the right places. It was a true team effort. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how hard it can be to put on and take off compression stockings! Many of the children gradually took more control of their own application of creams as the week passed by and the results were great! A clear improvement was seen in the skin of many of them, especially those with atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

The children weren’t the only ones to benefit from the camp experience. I was reminded of the large impact that a skin disorder can have, as one of the children admitted that they would avoid sports and swimming because of fear of being ridiculed by other children. For many, camp was a great opportunity to share their experiences and have fun in a safe and supportive environment. Their “creaming time” also provided an opportunity for them to ask each other about their skin disorders. I was struck by their non-judgmental curiosity, and their insightful explanations to one another about their skin problems, as they understood them. Everyone learned something new.

By the end of the week, it was clear that the group had bonded and great friendships (and future penpals!) had been formed. It was definitely a valuable experience, and I would highly recommend it to fellow residents.