During one of my last weekends back in New Zealand I traveled down to Rotorua, the area famous for its volcanic landmarks and geothermal activity. Despite being one of the most visited places in New Zealand with tourists travelling from all over the world, I in fact was heading there for a slightly different reason.
A former colleague, Mat, and his wife Jess were regular volunteers with a charity, Camp Quality, which provides holidays and activities for children living with cancer. Each year this organisation runs numerous summer camps – both in New Zealand and also other countries across the world, providing young people affected by the disease with an amazing and memorable experience.
Camp Quality was first established in Australia back in 1983, by an English immigrant, Vera Entwistle. Two years later Vera helped launch Camp Quality in New Zealand, running their first camp in West Auckland attracting 22 children from across the country. A Sydney doctor gave Vera the idea for the organisation’s name when he told her:
“No one can do anything about the quantity of anyone’s life, but all of us can do something about the quality”
Since then Camp Quality NZ has grown to provide annual summer camps and year-round support at no cost to help children and their families overcome the challenges of living with cancer.
I only joined the camp for two days but in that short time it was clear how much the opportunity meant for those involved – both the children (Campers) who attended but also the many volunteers (Companions) who give up a week of their time to support the camp. This project alone – and there was other camps running at the time elsewhere in the country involved 55 volunteers, 42 children as well as a whole fleet of vehicles and equipment. Similarly, as well as a sizeable logistical activity each Summer Camp requires a massive amount of fundraising by the charity’s supporters in order to enable this group of young people to take part in such an amazing array of activities.
This amounts to a huge undertaking for those volunteers involved in the charity but it was also clear that this involvement – and the significant year-round commitment required, was an increasingly fundamental part of their own lives. Given this attachment it was perhaps not surprising to see really great relationships developing between the Companions and the Campers despite them only having met the day before; many of the volunteers appeared to be enjoying the experience almost as much as the kids themselves.
I myself was fortunate to join them for a day of clay pigeon shooting, monster truck driving and 4×4 safari, followed by an afternoon of arts and crafts, cake decorating and horse riding with many of the activities at reduced cost or the facilitators giving up their time for free. The next day, as I departed, the group had been due to go on a helicopter ride, partly as this had been the wish of one of their regular Campers.
The children who attend the camp are all at different stages in their treatment and so there is on-site medical support at all times with a team of nurses supporting the volunteers in their care of the children. The thing that struck me throughout from my short time there was just how little cancer was actually mentioned. In fact, it was not really touched on at all, other than when a few of the adult volunteers chatted briefly about the kids’ situations late one evening at the end of a another tiring day; this was simply a great group of kids trying their best to have an amazing time.