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Open letter to Over The Wall: “They say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth…”

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Dear Over The Wall,  

Hi, I’m Rhianna. I’m seventeen, and I’m a camper. I am writing to tell you what you do for people, how you help, and to say thank you. 

I want to tell you my story.

Imagine having to mature at the age of three and a half, having to look after yourself more and be responsible. Because that’s exactly what I had to do.

My brother, Connor, was born when I was three and a half, and he was and still is seriously ill. I became a young carer for him, at a very young age, my mum was around, but I still had to do my part. He was being taken care of, 24/7, so I had to learn to figure out how to do things, in case he had to be tended to. I am still effected when it comes to my brother, my attitude depends on how he is doing. Connor was the reason I attend an Over The Wall Siblings Camp for the first time.

Connor was born with multiple issues, and a lot of them have become worse as he has grown up. He is now fourteen. For fourteen years he has dealt with all of this. He has multiple life-threatening food and environmental allergies, asthma, eczema, adrenal insufficiency, and keratoconjunctivitis, half of which I can’t begin to understand. He takes so many medications that effect him negatively, for instance every Friday he takes a shot of immunosuppressant (methotrexate), which is a form of chemo and this weakens his immune system whilst helping treat other illnesses. They’re the ones that scare me most. I can watch him take his tablets, put his cream on and take his inhaler, but I hate seeing him take his immunosuppressant injection, not because I don’t like needles, but because of the side effects. That injection could cause him cancer, and makes him more prone to other illnesses, such as colds and flus, and they have serious effects on him.

I love my brother to bits, honestly. And every day is a challenge for him, and me.  

I struggle to go to school when he is ill, I worry when I can’t see what he is doing.  I worry every time he leaves the house with his friends. I worry every time I see an ambulance, because what if it is for him? On my seventeenth birthday, while I was at school, my brother was experiencing a bad episode, and was meant to be going to hospital. I sat at school, worrying. If you think spending a birthday at school is bad, imagine crying when a teacher asks you how it’s been, sitting the whole day waiting for your mum to message and tell you whether or not your brother has to spend your birthday in hospital. I am seriously affected by my brother’s health problems, because I struggle to complete everyday tasks when he isn’t feeling the best as I spend every second wondering if it’s going to get worse.  

I want to support him through anything and remind him that I am there for him and love him unconditionally, but it is so hard when he has taken away my childhood. I didn’t get to experience much of my own life because I was always trapped within his. It’s that feeling of do I support him or myself? Do I allow myself to start sinking for a while so that he gets through anything, or do I focus on my wellbeing and let the professionals deal with him? It’s a conflict within my own brain.  

Now you know a little bit more about me, I want to talk about you, Over The Wall.  

Over The Wall is one of the happiest places I have ever been, and this summer I was meant to be attending my final camp. I have met some of the best people in my life through Over The Wall and I have experienced some of the best days of my life.  

The Siblings Camps allow us to become children again, to do things that we couldn’t always do due to our siblings’ health challenges. It allows us to feel important. For years I felt shoved aside for my brother’s needs, I felt isolated, left out. But when I came to camp it was like I finally had people there for me. Not to be selfish but it was nice to be asked if I was okay, instead of everything being focused on my brother. It felt like someone finally cared, as if they actually wanted to help. I felt like I was important, and it was amazing. Camp also gives us the opportunity to connect with people who are in similar situations, without even talking about it, because they actually understand unlike a lot of our everyday friends and family. I have met so many amazing people through camp, campers and volunteers.  

Talking about campers, some of them have been through horrible life-changing experiences, and OTW allows them to breathe, relax, and feel like they don’t have to worry for a few days. They can take a break from being a young carer and be a child again. No matter how old they are, we all run about singing, shouting and wearing face paint. Every single camper at the Sibling Camps are all there for slightly different, but similar, reasons and it gives everyone an opportunity to connect and relate. Each individual camper adds their own aspect to camp and creates a little bit more fun and joy. Some campers become your best friends. I went to camp four years ago and met Shannon, we clicked and now she is basically my best friend, and I wouldn’t be in the position and mind set I am in now, without her. And other campers like Kenzie, Billie, Finola and Jamie have become really close friends that have massively influenced my life.  

Volunteers also add sparkle, or “camp magic” as some people call it. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be at camp. We wouldn’t have all the enjoyment and fulfilment, all the different activities, and we wouldn’t be able to have as much fun as we do. I think that just as every camper adds a little something to camp, so does every volunteer. I have met some of the most amazing volunteers at camp, people who are dedicated to giving us the time of our lives, giving us something different to remember, and giving us a new perspective on life. Some campers feel down, have a lot going on, or are stressed about family or school, and the volunteers do the best job at taking that all away, putting a smile on our faces, and keeping it there for at least five days. I can’t tell you how many times a volunteer has made me look at a situation differently, or just made me laugh when I haven’t felt the best. But there is one volunteer who stands out to me, and that is Jodie. She connected with me at my second camp more than any other volunteer. She took my mind off of everything and allowed me to just relax. She picked me up when I was down, and created a very strong bond, one that I wasn’t sure I could make with anyone. Jodie made me feel like I was at home at camp and I looked forward to seeing her every year I attended camp. 

Camp is magical, and I wanted to thank you for your contribution to it. Whoever you are reading this, thank you.  

Thank you for giving me and many others (not just the siblings) a little bit of magic in their life when they need it. Because throughout the rest of the year, when we aren’t at camp, we all reflect on how camp made us feel, and we all use the hope of getting in next year to push us that little bit further in life and keep us going when we are in a dark place.  

Thank you for allowing us to feel free, and important for five days. You may not look at camp and think it is impressive or that it does much for the campers, but boy are you wrong. They say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. But they’ve clearly never been to Over The Wall. That beats Disney any day. Thank you for everything. I mean it.  

Sincerely, Rhianna  

We’d like to thank Rhianna for this very moving piece, sharing her thoughts and feelings about growing up with a sibling with health challenges, how this effected her and how she came to know Over The Wall.

Coping with an illness in the family can often lead to siblings having to adopt a caregiving role and therefore, many miss out on critical areas of childhood development, such as socialising and developing relationships with other children. This is exactly what Over The Wall Siblings Camps aim to address.

With your support, we can help more children like Rhianna get the respite they need.

Siblings Camps | Blog: coping with childhood illness | Volunteer with us