Monday, 15 July 2013

Winter Holiday Camps

The last two weeks were right up there as two of the biggest weeks of my life, right next to my trips to Mexico and India. I spent my entire school holidays, bar three days, leading on children's camps, specifically seven to twelve year old camps.

There were two camps: in the first week I had a Christian Youth Camp on Phillip Island, nearly two hours from my home in Melbourne, and a Southern Cross Kids' Camp just across the road from my church.

These two camps were similar in almost every way: Same demographics in the kids and the leaders, same religious ideas, similar programs and activities, even the songs we sang and the stories we told were similar.

There was really only one vital difference: the kids.

CYC camps (Week 1) often attract kids who have likely grown up in Christian homes, or are otherwise connected to leaders on the camp, they're all well-off enough for their parents to pay upwards of $200 to spend half their Winter holidays on camp, and a lot of them will go on a CYC camp every time there's school holidays.

SCKCs (Week 2) bring in kids on the opposite side of the spectrum. In fact, the only way to get onto the camp is to be referred by a social worker, a chaplain, or similar. You see, every child on that camp had been the victim of some form of abuse or neglect.

To go from one camp to another with only one day's rest in between was a truly amazing experience. On the CYC camp we were wrestling with kids, cuddling kids, giving them piggy-packs when they behave, and putting them in wheelie bins when they don't.

Two days later, I was on a camp where because on the situations some of those kids have been on around physical or sexual abuse, and because of the delicate security of the leaders, we couldn't even pat them on the shoulder unless they gave us permission.

On the first camp, I led a cabin of four boys that I shared with one other leader, some rooms only had one leader, one room had seven kids in it. On the SCKC, every camper had their own personal buddy, and the two of them had to stick together like glue for the whole camp.

Having a one-to-one kid to leader ratio meant that I really got to know one kid, and he was really the only kid I got to know at all on the camp. But it also meant I could really get to know him, invest into him, guide him, and teach him.

On the CYC camp, I had to deal with kids wetting themselves, wetting the bed, wetting their clothes. I had to deal with a kid who bounced off the walls if he so much as looked at sugar, and one kid who spent half the camp discussing quantum physics and paradoxes, but that was it.

On camp number two, I had a kid who was the second youngest of five kids, and whose father ended up in hospital when he was very young. His poor mother was torn between an invalid husband and a newborn baby, and my camper was missed in all of that.

But that was one of the happier tales amongst that camp. There were kids on that camp who had been subject to childhoods I wouldn't inflict on my worst enemy, kids living with fifteen other foster children, kids forbidden from contacting their biological parents, kids who disrupted and behaved so badly it felt like a scene from a horror movie.

On camp number one, I shoved chocolate mousse into a girls face after she put tomato sauce in my hair. On camp number two, I couldn't be alone with my camper at any time.

On camp number one, we gave kids presents because it was a Christmas in July themed camp. On camp number two, we gave kids presents because they might not have any toys of their own.

On camp number one, we went to bed at nine thirty because the kids in our cabin did. On camp number two, we stayed up 'til all hours of the morning making photo albums for the kids so they had a happy memory to look back on.

On camp number one, we let the kids go down the street to get soft drink and lollies for a party on the last night of camp. On camp number two, we made absolute certain that no kids had any lollies or chocolate while they were on camp.

After camp number one, most of those kids would've gone to church a few days later with their parents. After camp number two, a lot of them wouldn't be going home to their parents, and a handful of them would have the bibles we gave them taken from them and thrown away.

I couldn't possibly pick a camp I enjoyed more. They were both so special in their own ways. So unique, and yet so similar. But they were simply too different to say that I preferred one over the other.

But I think I can say with absolute certainty that if I can do them again next year, I will.

So much happened, I have a bucket load of stories to write about, stay tuned, there'll be posts all week.

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