Two days ago Niamh sent her family an email summarising her Camp America summer. She had shared most of these experiences with me throughout our brief exchanges throughout the summer but reading her words was something else. I asked her if she wanted to guest on my blog site and she agreed. Names have been protected.
Here is the email:
“So, my time at camp Hidden Valley has come to an end today and I can’t tell you how much of an amazing experience it has been.
When they said summer camp would be one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do, they definitely weren’t wrong. It’s been very hard work due to being deprived of sleep constantly and dealing with sassy 11 year olds. It has been the greatest thing I have ever done despite that. The challenges have been so tough but I made it out and it really does give you a better outlook on life.
The kids from my camp were all underprivileged children from NYC, most of them had never left the city before. Coming to camp in the middle of nowhere was a big adjustment for some of them. As well as that, a lot of kids had disabilities and medical conditions as well as behavioural problems which made it even more difficult. But I made it through and really impacted some of my girls lives.
One girl from session two, ‘Brenda’, screamed my name and refused to get on the bus because I wasn’t on it when she left camp. It took the director half an hour to convince her to get on. She said I was the closest thing to a mum she had ever had because her mum had died when she was very young and grew up moving around various family members. She had a lot of behavioural problems and created a lot of problems in the cabin by winding other girls up but when someone screams your name whilst sobbing it really hit home how much I’d impacted that child.
Another girl, ‘Karen’, from the last session was one of my favourites out of all the campers. She was incredibly homesick for the entire 12 days and acted out because of it. She had a physical fight with one of the girls in the cabin where 3 of us counsellors couldn’t break them apart. It was terrifying and resulted in a hair braid being pulled out and the other girl being sent home!! I thought I’d broken my toe too!! She finally managed to open up to me and told me lots of stories about her life, once I’d shared some of mine. She told me that her best friend had died in her arms less than two months ago. She said it was something she had never told anybody else but she felt like she could trust me. The fact she felt comfortable to tell me felt amazing!!!
My greatest achievement of the summer was a little girl called ‘Melissa’. In the first few days of camp she was very quiet and we just thought she was ignoring us. We finally got her to talk and it was clear that she had some sort of hearing loss as her speech was very limited. On a night we have to ask the girls questions about their days and write them down for a record. When I did hers one night I asked her if she was deaf and she said yes. Her parents hadn’t told camp so nobody knew. She told me that her mum was also deaf, she went to New York school for the deaf and could sign and lip read.
After my conversation with her she went to write a note for the rest of the cabin because she now had the confidence to do so. After the note was handed around the cabin, ‘Melissa’s’ confidence grew instantly and it was all because I’d given her the confidence to tell people. I shared Isobel’s (my little sister) story with her and I think this helped. For our camp chant off I sat and wrote out all the lyrics with her so she knew exactly what we were singing, as before she didn’t have a clue what was being sung. We also changed one of our chants to include sign language which she stood up on a bench and taught to 35 other girls. This was amazing as two days before she wouldn’t even talk to the others.
The best part of this story was when my entire cabin of 12 girls had a sign language lesson with the director who can also sign. ‘Melissa’ gave us all sign names. The one she gave me meant ‘endearing’. I completely changed that girls camp experience and in that moment I was the proudest I have ever been of myself. I cried like a baby!!!!
Camp has been incredible and it’s very clear how easily we’ve affected the lives of the children. Something that they will remember forever and so will I. I’ve also learnt to never roll my eyes at mum again because I now know how irritating it is!!!!!
Travelling so far has been incredible. We’ve been to Washington, Miami, Orlando, Boston and now I’m back in NYC before I fly to Calgary, Canada tomorrow to see the Canadian side of the Donnachie family. I said goodbye to my best friend Caitlin today which was incredibly sad as we’ve been together constantly for the last two months. I have never been so close to someone before but I know she will be a friend for life! I’ll be having plenty of trips to Edinburgh to visit her.
See you all very soon, I can’t wait to come home!!!
Lots of love,
It goes without saying that I am one incredibly proud mum.