By Julie Foster, Head of Trusts and Individual Giving
The children that come to our camps are often excluded from participating in mainstream life, due to the complexity of their medical and support needs. Seriously ill children often experience severe disruption to their education and social development; many spend prolonged periods of time in hospital and are not able to form relationships outside of the immediate family unit. Physical evidence of their illness can result in bullying and rejection, heightening feelings of loneliness and unhappiness. This results in a downward spiral of low self-esteem and confidence which in turn has a negative impact on the child’s quality of life. It is well understood that these ‘unseen’ symptoms of serious childhood illness also have an adverse impact upon resilience, treatment outcomes and recovery.
Take Megan, who attended one of OTW’s Midlands-based camps. Megan used to be a very confidant child, but after her diagnosis at 11 years old of Friedreich’s Ataxia – a rare disease of the nervous system – Megan’s confidence hit rock bottom. She found it hard adjusting to being in a wheelchair and was quick to decide that she wouldn’t or couldn’t do things she used to enjoy.
OTW camps act as a positive point of intervention in this negative cycle. The outcomes of attending our camps have been described innumerable times by the health professionals who refer their patients to us as “transformational”.
The Therapeutic Recreation model we base all our camps on is a form of therapy designed, (and proven), to help children with illnesses and disabilities to overcome what they perceive to be their limitations. In so doing, camp aims to increase their confidence and self-esteem and provide them with the tools they need to better cope with the challenges, fears and frustrations they face, every day.
At OTW camps, this is achieved through participation in a wide range of social, creative and physical activities. All activity sessions are carefully designed to enable every single child to participate, including wheelchair users. Camp is a uniquely nurturing and supportive environment. The children quickly develop the confidence to try new activities and therefore achieve new things they never thought possible. They challenge themselves, and others, to aspire to do more and to achieve more. Our camps provide a platform from which children can return to their daily lives with an increased sense of ability and self-worth.
Megan loved camp and after her return her parents quickly saw a return to her old, more outgoing self. As her Dad says:
“Meg definitely returned with a stronger sense determination. She clearly feels more confident in approaching the challenges she’s faced with. We recently moved to a new house and she has gone out to the village in her chair, independently. She simply would not have had the confidence to do that before camp. At camp she loved the climbing and with the aid of a hoist she reached the top of the climbing wall. She used to be a very active outdoorsy kid so for her to know she can achieve something like that was just brilliant. Camp has made her understand that she can do much more than she thought she could.”