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Guest blog: Free camps for children with health challenges!

 
 

Guest blog: Free camps for children with health challenges!

 
 

Our friends at Over The Wall are here to tell you all about the free camps they run to help children living with cancer and other health challenges.

Since 1999, the charity, Over The Wall has provided free life-changing activity camps for children, teenagers and families living with serious illness.

Originally founded by the Hollywood legend, Paul Newman, the charity has enabled over 8,000 children to experience its free, transformational, residential camps. Each of these camps provides memorable, fun and empowering experiences in a physically safe and medically sound environment. The focus of all camps is helping campers to discover how amazing they truly are, using therapeutic recreation- with a strong focus on fun.

Childhood illnesses  

There are 50,000 children and young people in the UK living with all kinds of serious health challenge. For these young people, quality of life is adversely affected by isolation and their inability to participate in many of the everyday activities enjoyed by their friends and peers. This often results in a growing lack of self-esteem and confidence which can become a barrier to future growth and development. Over The Wall’s residential programmes are designed to bring about transformational change to tackle these issues and to ensure our campers return home with a new sense of their abilities and ambitions, and feeling far less isolated.

 Who can come to camp?

Health Challenge Camps

Over The Wall invites applications from children aged 8 to 17 years, living in the UK, who are currently receiving treatment, or experiencing the difficulties of a serious health challenge. These include cancer and leukemia.

In total, Over The Wall caters for over 130 different health challenges, including cancer, blood disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatological conditions, immunological disorders (eg HIV, primary immune deficiency), respiratory disorders, skin conditions, severe allergies, heart conditions, kidney disease, neurological disorders (eg epilepsy, spina bifida) neuromuscular disorders (eg muscular dystrophy), organ transplant and physical disability, (eg spinal injury).

Sibling camps

Over The Wall invites applications from children aged 8 to 17 who have a sibling who is currently receiving treatment, or experiencing the difficulties of a serious health challenge. (Their unwell sibling does not need to be within the 8 to 17-year age group).

Family Camps

Over The Wall also hosts family camps and invites applications from families living in the UK who have a child with a serious health challenge. The child with the health challenge can be any age from 0-17; however, one child in the family should be within the 8 to 17 year age group.

Benny

Meet Over The Wall camper Benny 

In 2017, 11-year-old, Benny from Dundee was sent home from school with complaints of a sore throat and fever. After visiting the doctors, a diagnosis of tonsillitis was made and Benny was prescribed a course of antibiotics. However, over the weekend, Benny broke out in a rash that started on his ankles and spread to his torso. Initially Benny’s parents thought this was a reaction to antibiotics, but after several tests in hospital, Benny and his family received the devastating news that Benny had leukaemia and required an immediate transfer through to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children to start chemotherapy.   

Benny spent over a month in hospital and after that he was only able to attend school on occasions while the frequent hospitalisations for fevers continued due to his low immune system. He missed out on most of his final year of primary school, and the annual residential trip - an event he was really looking forward to. Whilst in treatment, Benny had to be within an hour’s distance from the hospital in case of a spike in temperature. He still requires weekly hospital visits as part of his recovery plan. 

Ben’s mum Clare describes the impact that illness has had on Benny: “Despite his attendance in year seven being as low as 36%, the school explained that he had done exceedingly well - much better than expected - but whilst he wasn’t behind in learning, his friendships had suffered.”  

“If a child spends a whole year only spending time with parents and medical staff, it has a big effect on them. In Benny’s case he developed a mature, stoic approach to everything. A year of intense illness gave him a strong burst of maturity and at only 12 years old, he had made plans of his education and career. He could tell you the names of all his medicines and what they did, what their side effects were. He became very mature. But, when he saw his peers he found he was speaking on a different level to them, that they were not as serious about life - and so he became aware that a disconnection between himself and his peers had developed.”  

Benny’s chemotherapy treatment has a vast number of physical side effects, one of which is a huge lack of stamina. “Inevitably, boys move around a lot, and often Benny struggles to keep up with his friends. They will just leave their houses and go down to the beach – it’s a 20 minute walk away to a nice white sandy beach where all the children hang-out- but, I can’t really let Benny go out alone and this of course, has an effect on him.” 

After discovering Over The Wall and applying for Benny to attend camp, his family noticed a huge change in Benny’s mental wellbeing. “When Benny came back from camp he came back hopeful and so full of plans, he wanted to bake, to rock climb and to try new things, he came back full of life.” explains Clare. “We hadn’t realised to what extent his mental wellbeing had suffered until he returned. It was then that we really saw the true value of Over The Wall camp. It improved his mental wellbeing incredibly; he came back in a much better place. As a parent there are certain things you can do to address physical wellbeing. I can feed him well, make sure he does his physiotherapy, ensure he has had his medication - but for mental wellbeing - there is only so much you can do.”   

“Hanging out with friends, laughing and not having a care in the world, it’s all so important and Benny was able to do exactly that at camp. He loved the independence, he loved the fact he could do things himself. Camp was a memorable experience that was only his. It has also given him a stronger sense of independence - it gave him the experience of looking after himself - it opened his mind to trying new things. He loved being somewhere where someone wasn’t continuously watching over him with an eager eye. He had a break from someone always asking ‘Are you ok? Should we take your temperature? Do you need anything? Have you had your liquids for the day? Camp also alleviated us from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Even Jack, our eldest child, has been able to attend Over The Wall’s camp for siblings and this was great for him. As hard as you try not to put the sibling second, we often have to ask Jack to change or alter his own plans as a result of family care for Benny - and this makes it hard for him to find his own identity within the family. The sibling camp really helped. As a child with illness, Benny has a lot of sources that he could use (although we don’t) such as psychologists, an oncology team  and ad hoc charities - but there isn’t really anything for the siblings - that is apart from Over The Wall, and this is especially great for teen siblings.” 

“Benny’s greatest moment was conquering the climbing the wall. He said he felt such a sense of achievement. We never would have thought there would be such an activity for a child undergoing chemotherapy.”  

 

If you are interested in applying for camp in 2020, applications open in October 2019. To find out more about Over The Wall camp, go to www.otw.org.uk

 

Why not volunteer for Over The Wall?

 Every year Over The Wall needs around 800 volunteers to help with camps across the UK- including both clinical and non-clinical volunteers. Participating at camp will provide you with a unique and unforgettable experience, allowing you to create new friendships and develop new skills, whilst making a positive impact on childrens lives.

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