International volunteer’s day – meet Elly!

Meet Elly — she’s an enthusiastic student with a passion for helping others. She wants to be a paediatric radiographer! Since receiving a stem cell transplant a few years ago, Elly is keen to give back and make as much of a difference as she can through volunteering. Elly is a truly inspiring volunteer who played a part in creating the mischief and magic of camp this summer.

My story

I was 16 when I was diagnosed with leukaemia. It’s been five years since my stem cell transplant. My life had been pretty ‘normal’ up until this point. I didn’t know anyone that had a serious health issue. Now I know a lot of people with a wide range of Health Challenges. It’s opened up my world a bit more which is why I want to advocate about issues like this.  

My immune system was so low after treatment I wasn’t allowed back into school. I had to study for A Levels from home. Not being able to go to lessons was really difficult but wanting to help people get better inspired me to keep going and work really hard. Being on the receiving end of medical treatment made me realise I want to work in a field that helps people get better. 

When you get the chance to live, I want to make sure I’m making the most of it and helping as many people as I can with the opportunity I’ve been given.

Volunteer Elly at camp

Camp is a safe place!

Camp is a safe place where you’re amongst others who are going through the same or similar things. My family and I were worried about me going back to school, going to university and being in crowds. So had I been able to go to camp as a teenager, it would have been reassuring for my parents that we could do something together as a family without having to worry. My mum had to take a year off work to care for me, meaning my dad had to work more. I was in and out of hospital a lot too so we didn’t have much family time at all. It’s wonderful that camp exists to provide that space for families.

Family camp

The family I was paired with at family camp had a child who had had a stem cell transplant. It was really cool to talk to them about it and show them that there is life on the other side. There are so many other things you can do once you’ve had a transplant, like all the volunteering I do. Talking to the whole family, including the siblings and parents, helped them feel less overwhelmed. It was so important to make sure they were all having a good time. 

My favourite thing about camp was meeting a camper who’d spent most of the last two years since COVID inside because they were clinically vulnerable. I watched this camper develop and explore new challenges. We even managed to get them out on the lake in the canoe! They hadn’t been able to do things like that before coming to camp. Hearing the feedback from them and their parents about how much they enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to come back next year was really special. That’s what we’re doing it for.

International Volunteer's day

Why volunteer at camp?

I signed up to be an activity leader as well as a teammate volunteer. This role helped me develop better communication skills. Speaking in front of a big group of campers and volunteers wasn’t something I’d done before. By the end of the first week I felt much more confident doing this. It’s a great skill to have for my professional development too. It’s helped me find the right ways to speak to children and learn more about them, which will be really helpful as I work towards becoming a paediatric radiographer. 

Taking on the role of activity leader showed me I could make a difference at camp. When I started my placement later this year, I could bring that experience with me. I had just done something incredible over the summer. Coming back into a healthcare at the hospital confirmed that yes, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. 

We didn’t know which campers had Health Challenges or what they were. No one knew I had a Health Challenge either — everyone was treated in the same way. It was an open minded approach where our only focus was making sure the campers were happy whilst also supporting them in reaching their stretch zone.

The best thing about camp

The best thing about camp is watching all the campers grow as people throughout the week as they take on and overcome new challenges. Each day is very structured. This gives campers and volunteers a solid routine to stick to, allowing each activity to be properly enjoyed. I think the campers really appreciate this structure as it helps them make the most of the day. We gave them ‘brilliance’ beads at the end of each day to let them know we’d been paying attention to everything they achieved. It was nice for them to have that positive affirmation and to recognise the good job they’d done that day!

Change a child’s life

Volunteering at OTW is an experience that gives you the opportunity to change someone’s life. Putting yourself out there, doing something you’re a bit nervous to do, could be the pivotal change in a child’s life that’s going to give them the confidence to do challenging things. Being that person to motivate a child — even if it’s just for a short time — to do amazing things is an incredible thing to do. I don’t think that’s an opportunity you should pass up!

Feeling inspired by Elly’s story? Volunteer with us at an Over The Wall camp in 2024!