It is truly an incredible thing to witness children so at ease and comfortable that they forget the burdens of their everyday lives, particularly when those children may have more worries than the average child due to their skin condition.
Camp Liberté West provided exactly that for the eleven campers we had enrolled with dermatologic diseases. From the moment the kids checked in with their parents and dropped off their medications, they bonded instantly with new friends and welcoming camp counsellors. There was no embarrassment or hesitation when we would approach the campers to apply their topical medications, and there was a total sense of normalcy in helping them with their treatments because many of their new friends had their own medical issues. We were able to witness the formation of strong friendships between campers who had both similar and different conditions, with no judgment or exclusion.
Camp Liberté West allowed the campers to partake in new experiences they might not have the opportunity to engage in otherwise. We saw many of our campers conquer fears they had at the beginning of camp with the help of their new friends and counsellors, like navigating the high ropes course or the giant swing. It was wonderful to watch one of our youngest campers, who has autosomal recessive congenital ichthyosis and is frequently uncomfortable, get up on the giant swing and yell out how peaceful it was as he swung above us. The campers and counsellors were so supportive of one another, demonstrated best by the shouts of encouragement from everyone below as the campers scaled the rock-climbing wall.
Many thanks to Camp Horizon for ensuring our campers had the best time and were well taken care of, and to Dr. Kirk Barber, Lyne DiMillo and the Canadian Dermatology Association for making this week possible for our campers
Allison Cinats, MD
PGY3 Dermatology, University of Calgary
I am originally from the Lanaudière area, so I am very familiar with the reputation of Camp Papillon. However, it wasn’t until the start of my residency in dermatology that I discovered Camp Liberté, which is for dermatology patients who are between 7 and 12 years old. I undoubtedly wanted to learn from this unique experience, which gives children with skin disorders the opportunity to participate in a five-day summer camp. When the campers arrived, I could see the anxiety that many parents felt about the idea of leaving their child in the care of other adults for the first time. However, the presence of the medical team was very reassuring to them. During the week, the children enjoyed many activities such as archery, climbing, fishing and canoeing down a river, to name but a few. My experience taught me about many of the daily realities faced by children with skin disorders. First observation: the frequent application of treatments requires clever organization by parents and the addition of several topical medications can quickly become a real headache. However, I realized that this was a great opportunity to communicate with the children and learn more about their life and their camp experience. By directly observing them apply their topical treatments, I reaffirmed the importance of good education on the amount to use and right area to treat. I now try to incorporate this basic aspect of dermatology treatment and repeat it at each patient visit. I was also quite fascinated by the maturity of some children toward their disorder and the positive impact of the group in acceptance of their condition. I highly recommend this experience to other dermatology residents because it allowed me to establish a privileged connection with these children. In fact, I noted that they spoke more freely about their condition because the enjoyable setting was more conducive to this than in the clinic. Finally, it was a reminder that our patients are first and foremost children who want to live and have fun like everyone else despite their dermatological limitations.
Julie Mireault, MD
PGY2 Dermatology, University of Montreal
“Can I tell you a secret? –
– In gym class, I stay covered-up in long sleeves and long pants, and whenever anyone asks, I say that I’m just cold. But the truth is I don’t want anyone to see my skin.”
“What’s annoying is that people at school keep asking me what’s wrong with my skin and I have to constantly explain it to them.”
“Whenever my family go on a vacation, everyone else goes swimming and I can’t because of my skin. It’s a lot for a kid my age to deal with but I think I’ve just gotten used to it now.”
These are just a few of the accounts told to us by campers at this year’s 8th annual Camp Liberté, a summer camp for children aged 7 to 12 with moderate-to-severe cutaneous conditions, including atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, alopecia and psoriasis. The camp, situated at the scenic by-the-lake Camp Papillon in Lanaudière, 120km north of Montreal, Quebec, was inspired by a group of dermatologists dedicated to providing an enjoyable, open-minded and empowering camp experience.
Camp Liberté was a week of firsts for many campers – their first canoe trip, zip-lining adventure, rock-climbing experience, and overnight outing away from the familiarity of home… these will likely be the memories cherished as a new school year sneaks up on each camper. But when they reflect upon their camp experiences in the years to come, I am sure they will fondly recall a deeper set of firsts – a time they felt empowered amongst others with similar skin conditions, encouraged to learn more about their conditions, and liberated to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.
For most campers, their skin conditions were treated as a secret, a sensitive and privileged topic not openly shared with all. But as part of the medical team, I was allowed to traverse these walls, if just for a moment, helping the campers adhere to their oral and topical medications. To be let into the campers’ private worlds was a truly extraordinary and humbling experience. Perhaps equally cathartic for the campers, I witnessed what a difference it made in their lives. For instance, the camper who confessed to keeping covered in gym class spent the week in T-shirts and shorts, encouraged and spurred on by confidence. After one short week, I witnessed campers leaving more confident in themselves, their social skills, and their understanding and appreciation of their conditions.
Camp Liberté – a summer camp seemingly like any other – is a camp I have experienced firsthand to be a supportive, hopeful and transformative environment for children brought together through, but not limited by, their cutaneous conditions. Camp Liberté is aptly named; it is no ordinary camp. For these children, it is refreshing; freeing; liberating.
Thank you to all the campers, counsellors, and fellow medical team for this year’s outstanding Camp Liberté experience.
MD Program – U of O
Camp Liberté 2016 Medical Volunteer
Taryn Gitter, BMSc
UBC MD Program
“Le bonheur est quelque chose qui se multiple quand il se partage.”
Good times are always enjoyed the most when shared with others.
These words were painted on the wall of my cabin at Camp Liberté, it is truly the meaning and essence of the camp. It fully reflects my experiences and those of the campers.
As a fourth year medical student, I have seen many unique and interesting dermatological conditions. I have developed the ability to recognize, diagnose and treat these conditions. At most visits, patients receive education on their condition as well as a prescription with instructions and will not be seen again for several weeks or months.
It was not until I attended Camp Liberté that I understood the gap between treatment and care. I did not yet appreciate what it was like living with these skin conditions. The campers taught me first-hand what a flare was like, how time consuming their topical treatments were and how their daily lives and activities were affected. I began to understand not only the physical barriers that exist for these children but how these physical barriers impact their psychology and growth.
While colouring with one of the campers, I noticed that his first instinct was to fill in the skin of the characters in the images, something uncharacteristic for a 9 year old. For the first few days of camp many of the campers wanted to take their topical treatments into the washroom to be put on alone as this is a very private thing for them. Despite the weather being 30 degrees and sunny, many of the campers still insisted on wearing long sleeves and pants.
As camp progressed, these psychological barriers began to diminish. Interacting with one another the campers realized that their condition did not make them who they were and should not interfere with their enjoyment of swimming, sports or even just simply talking to a new friend. The happiness the campers exuded partaking in these activities and being part of a group could be felt by all.
Despite coming from different provinces and speaking different languages, these children all attend camp for the same reason; to bond with one another, to learn from each other and to see that happiness is something they all deserve and can share.
After all, good times are always enjoyed the most when shared with others.