Monday, 20 July 2015. On the first day of the summer camp, I missed the train I was supposed to catch so I was 20 minutes late. This was not too bad because I got there at 8:30 and the children arrived at 9:00, although I still felt stressed because I wanted to make a good impression. However, the coordinators hardly took notice, and I soon learned that everyone was very kind and relaxed, and were just grateful for us being there to help out. This made me feel relieved. The only thing they were very serious about was the children safety, because there was access to a road, and that we did not talk about the children outside the camp to keep their identity confidential. At first, I thought having to keep the children’s identity confidential a bit drastic, however, when I started working with the children, I soon realised that if anyone were to identify them it would be easy to take advantage of them. This is upsetting but true.
On the first day I was paired up with one of the ‘friendship group’s’ children, which is discrete way of saying ‘the most challenging children’ to look after. This was extremely stressful and scary for me, as the camper I was looking after was the same age as me with a condition that made the camper, to my understanding, unaware of what was needed to be done and where to go. So, if I were to guide the camper to a specific place, or stop him from walking into the road or into a computer room, it was very hard to communicate. I learnt that I needed to physically guide the camper by holding their shoulders, and hold their hand and guide it in an activity such as painting. By the end of the day, I felt more confident with my abilities, by doing something I have never done before.
I think one of the skills I have gained from this experience is to learn quickly and think creatively very fast. This is because, every child is drastically different to the next, so every new child demands a new set of skills for me to acquire. For some children, it will be to calm them down or keep them calm by massaging them or making colourful bottles of water and oil toys. Other children will be very energetic and I need to keep attentive and keep them entertained so that they do not get bored. On one occasion.. this included gathering pinecones and hiding them from everyone else for the squirrels, even though squirrels eat acorns, I had to sort of make it work on the spot. For some children, we needed to help them in their learning processes, of either study skills, like maths and language, here,I needed to be positive and give guidance without being patronising or too critical. In social skills, either in a lesson or outside at break times, I needed to help them understand socially acceptable conversations or appropriate touching. For example, teaching a camper that we need to ask someone if we can touch them before they do, or saying ‘please’ and ‘thanks you’. One of the most difficult lessons to give was accepting ‘not winning a game’. At one point, my camper was playing a board game and got extremely upset about loosing and decided to cry and blame the other team of loosing. In this case, myself and another volunteer had to calm the camper down by taking him away from the game and telling him gently that we need to stay fair and kind when playing games with friends.
This was an overall fantastic experience for me. I had a lot of fun and was extremely satisfied with my work with the children, and seeing how grateful their parents were for our help. I felt I had really achieved something and that I had made a difference in these children’s lives, even if it was just a few days. I managed to communicate in french, which is not easy for me, to the children as many were French speaking, as well as grow in confidence in knowing what to do in a new situation.
Photo: Katherine J and Amber S – CAS Student volunteers from Institut International de Lancy