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Star Camp 2014– an amazing experience

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ABOVE: TOP: JAMES ZAGAME, EDWIN SOON. BELOW: SUJAN SURENDRAN WITH CAMPER AND STAFF MEMBER.

Twelve Scotch boys joined their peers from other schools to become ‘companions’ for an excited group of ‘campers’.

A group of boys and girls from Scotch, Xavier College, Genazzano FCJ College, Loreto Mandeville Hall, St Kevin’s College and Sacre Coeur came together just before Christmas to give of their time, patience and care to a group of very special children from across Melbourne.

The 2014 Star Camp, held at Xavier’s boarding houses across three full days, 12-14 December, was the fourth occasion Scotch has been involved in this amazing annual experience. Fifteen boys and 12 girls with varying special needs (‘campers’) thoroughly enjoyed a great weekend of games, swimming, singing and dancing.

During the camp each year, Year 12 boys and girls (‘companions’) give of their time and emotions in a most intense way, as they are exposed to children who need 24-hour care and attention. Some children have to be hand fed, assisted with their personal hygiene, and encouraged to join in and have a great time. The relationships which develop between companions and campers are remarkable, to say the least; the emotions are raw and intense for everyone involved.

The students are supported by doctors, nurses and teachers from each of the schools, helping to create an environment which undoubtedly reflects the true spirit of Christmas.

The camp is sponsored by Sony Australia, and all schools contribute to the programme of activities for the three days. It’s certainly a challenging experience for the companions, but the rewards are inestimable for companions just as much for campers.

Year 12 Scotch boys participating in the 2014 camp were David Athan, William Cameron, Rishi Chaubal-Menon, Carter Dickinson, Will Kent, Henry McIntosh, Sam Nothnagel, Alasdair O’Donnell, Edwin Soon, Sujan Surendran, James Zagame and Jeffrey Zhao.

Scotch will host the 2015 Star Camp in School House and McMeckan House in the boarding precinct on the Hill..

PINO CUTINELLI – TIC, STAR CAMP

Here are the impressions of two of the Scotch companions – Henry McIntosh and Will Kent:

Arriving at Xavier was a nail-biting experience. I was nervous about finally meeting the child I would have the privilege of looking after, and seeing where we would be eating and sleeping.

But as soon as my little camper arrived, excitement replaced my anxiety as he jovially gestured towards the jumping castle and barely gave his departing parents a backward glance as he grasped my hand. This was a highlight for me, and others, as we enjoyed the first day with the activities and the learning curve that accompanied getting to know our little campers, as everyone embraced the journey.

Action was in abundance, as at meal-times tantrums unfolded or ‘spoon-planes’ brought delighted smiles to little campers’ faces.

The camp was an emotional roller-coaster for campers and buddies alike, as the stress of constant supervision or unfamiliar faces and surroundings emerged. For many, the pool provided ample laughs, as little campers soaked up their buddies’ attention and splashed around. Similarly, the train and jumping castle became a hub of entertainment and gaiety, providing opportunities for little campers to do something active and alternative to their usual lifestyles.

The nights were often noisy, as the restlessness of some little campers disturbed others and caused a self-perpetuating cycle of distractions. Indeed, companions who were responsible for buddies who slept for six or more hours considered themselves lucky, as this was rarely the case!

Perhaps the hardest experience for us emotionally was farewelling our little mates, to whom we had all grown very attached. Teachers, doctors and staff from all the schools involved provided crucial emotional and intellectual support; however, nothing could temper the flood of emotions that poured forth on that final day. Indeed, the tears, hugs and impassioned waves are testament to the profound effect Star Camp had on us as buddies, but also how worthwhile and exciting the experience proved to be for the little campers!

HENRY MCINTOSH ('14)

Waiting for our camper to arrive was terrifying and exciting at the same time. Despite knowing nothing more than his medical history, we were expected to be completely responsible for his health and wellbeing over the next few days – a feeling none of us had ever experienced before.

However, very quickly we realised that it was far more than a disability that defined his unique and vibrant personality. His love of motorcycles, bouncy castles and mechanical roller doors defined our actions and games, and he quickly showed us that he was fun loving, caring, curious and not at all interested in slowing down; at points we had to work hard just to convince him to eat.

Across the three days there was never really an opportunity for rest; if we weren’t playing with our camper we were eating with him, or helping him shower. There was a fair number of tantrums to deal with as well – he could get fixated on anything from a jumping castle to a roller door, and when it was deflated, or Henry and I couldn’t unlock a roller door, it took a huge amount of effort to move him on to the next activity, when he would instantly forget about what had just happened and throw himself fully into that game.

Saying goodbye to our camper was hard. Although we were both exhausted, we had bonded with him over the weekend, and had come to know his vibrant personality. Looking at other companions feeling similar things, you realise the power of this camp, not only to give the hardworking carers and parents of these children a break, but to change the mindsets of the companions in viewing children with disabilities as children first, and recognising that they are not primarily defined by their disability.

WILL KENT ('14)

Updated: 3 October 2016