By: Reid Vender, Hamilton, Ontario
2012 Camp Volunteer
This summer, for one incredible week, I had the gracious opportunity and pleasure of volunteering at a camp whose essence screams freedom and strength.
As the name suggests, Camp Liberté empowers freedom and strength for children between the ages of seven to eleven years with mild to moderate skin conditions by providing a vacation styled accommodation. Camp Liberté is a team of counselors and medical staff with a shared goal: to provide a safe, fun, and genuine camp experience without the fear of judgement from societal norms, while empowering freedom.
As such, it is located at the stunning, tranquil and inviting Camp Papillon in Lanaudière, seventy kilometers north of Montreal, Quebec.
Six anxious campers were accompanied by me on the airplane from Toronto to Montreal. Some, who were new, were nervous, and some, who were returning, felt ready and excited. I engaged each camper in games and icebreakers to make the traveling experience more fun and less focused on why they were attending. I was able to see past their skin conditions and through to the normal, fun-loving children they are. Returning campers were kind and welcoming to the new campers; even a few friendships were made early on.
Upon venturing into the serene lakeside campsite, we immediately felt a sense of warmth and welcomeness. The preceding drive from the airport was lengthy; however it generated excitement amongst not only the counselors, but the campers as well. I could see the tremendous excitement in the children’ eyes and I began to picture what would be one of the greatest week long experiences of my life and theirs. My first impressions were remarkable to say the least. After organizing the campers into their rooms for the week, I was openheartedly welcomed by my fellow counselors and courteously given a tour of the living area. Shortly after, I was put to work to begin a profound experience. As I continued to engage with the children and my fellow counselors, I sensed a comfort that was similar to which I share with my family and friends.
The first night was when I established where I would fit in with the campers. To my delight, I was extremely pleased that they saw me as an outgoing, non-judgmental and compassionate counselor. Every individual, counselor or camper, shared sincere respect with each other. Similarly, to retain Camp Liberté’s value of freedom and strength, campers with mild skin conditions were treated equal to campers with more extensive skin conditions. In my mind, this allowed each camper to take away with them the same positive experience. Campers even spoke to each other about their skin conditions to suggest methods to control it, and handle themselves better. Each camper and counselors’ willingness to accept new situations is the reason I feel more open-minded after my Camp Liberté experience. Moreover, the campers now have a more uplifted outlook in life and realize they were not alone in the skin conditions they suffer from.
The responsibility given to me while volunteering at Camp Liberté was of an ideal amount. I undertook and overcame many new challenges in leadership and responsibility. The work was occupying, however far from exhaustive. I unfailingly felt I had more energy to begin each new day, and so each day became more amusing than the previous. It was gratifying to see the smiles on each camper’s face when they accomplished something new, and even more when they sought my advice, help, or guidance for certain activities. Likewise, I believe when the campers felt a sense of accomplishment, the confidence of the Camp Liberté team grew.
Nearing the end of the week I planned and initiated a science activity with the campers. The task was to build an elastic band vehicle with wheels, axles, and a chassis. The instructions I gave were simple for a purpose. It was important to let the creativity flow in each camper. The aim was to discover naturally which techniques, extra supplies, and knowledge were needed to build a more successful vehicle. It was very pleasing to see a camper’s hand fly up in the air to eagerly ask if they should perhaps make a sturdier wheel or more lightweight chassis. These opportunities for the campers to be creative and think deeply allowed them to forget about their skin conditions, and just enjoy some fun as normal children. Fortunately, the campers learned quite a lot in the activity, and my teaching skills were tested and improved. I am tremendously appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to be included in the activity planning process for the campers as I developed many new skills, and so did they.
Reflecting, Camp Liberté was a profound experience that taught there is extraordinary value in perseverance and commitment. Not only did I earn valuable life skills that I will habitually apply, I also learned the merit in sharing these skills with others in the future. I admire that these lucky campers were given the opportunity to realize they are not alone with their skin condition, and were
given a setting to discover, play, laugh, and grow as children. Camp Liberté should be tremendously proud for the quality, strength, and freedom of their camp, and for intuitively conveying an unrivaled message to each of its campers: there is always hope.
* Article was previously published in the Canadian Dermatology Association’s Bulletin, October 2012.