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Camp Counsellor
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

I decided to do this because I wanted to work abroad this summer. I went through NYQUEST to a job fair, where Canadian summer camps were recruiting international staff. I spoke to Barb, the camp director for Merrywood, and within speaking to her for two minutes I knew that I wanted to work in a special needs summer camp. I had wanted to go to Canada, because it looked to be a beautiful country. I chose to do a camp with Easter Seals, because I thought that it would be a fulfilling learning experience working with children and young adults who had disabilities. I had never done anything like that before, so it was a great opportunity for me to widen my horizons, gain skills and self confidence, and learn more about the different types of disabilities.

How did you find your placement/internship?

Organisation website

Application process

Through NYQUEST, an international recruiting agency for summer camps in Canada.

Main responsibilities

There is a vast range in type and severity of the disabilities of the campers attending the camp. I worked with campers who have Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Autism, Down syndrome, Developmental Delay, Epilepsy, ADHD, Global Delay, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Visual Impairments, and different types of Chromosomal Disorders including Christian Sin Syndrome. I also worked with campers who had suffered strokes, brain tumours or brain injuries.

Due to the vast age range, the camp was divided into different cabins for different age groups. There were three ten day sessions, one five day session, and one five day family camp (where the parents also attended and were responsible for the camper’s personal care). I was situated in the oldest girls twice (aged 17-26), the oldest boys once, and then I was with the youngest mixed gender (aged 7 – 12).

My job role was to address their physical needs whilst they were at camp, including providing their personal care; transferring and lifting, showering, dressing, toileting, feeding, and brushing teeth and hair. I also got trained on a Gastronomy Tube for the campers in my cabin that could not eat or drink liquids by mouth. We were also responsible for ensuring the cabins and camp in general was kept clean for the duration of the summer.

We would also address their emotional needs, where we had to come up with resolutions whilst dealing with camper conflicts. We would deal with homesickness, anxiety, low moods and any other emotion that young adults, teenagers and children go through. As a Counsellor, I would also take the campers around the programs and ensure they were engaged, as well as spending time with them during our ‘hang time’, where we would read, chat, or play sports; depending on their age.

Typical day

7:30am - Help the more dependent campers up using a hoyer lift, pivot or two person lift depending on their disability, change attends for those who are incontinent, change them, brush teeth etc

8:20am - flagpole, sing the anthem
8:30am - breakfast - help the campers eat, use the G tube for campers who could not eat or drink by mouth (which I got trained on)

9:20am - first activity - the activities available were: watersports (kayaking, canoeing, sailling, swimming), arts and crafts, enviroment, pottery, sports and games (which involved wheelchair basketball, sledge hockey), life skills, leadership in training and media. As a counsellor, we would attend these sessions, engage the campers with the activities, getting them involved and joining in ourselves.

10:30am - juicebreak

10:45am - second activity of the day.

11:45am - sell the sizzle (where the programmers at camp would try and 'sell' their programs to the campers, sort of like a mini advertisement, to try get them to sign up).

12am - lunch, again we would help the campers with their lunch

1:15 - 2:30 - 'hang time', where 7 out of the 10 staff in each cabin would have a break, whilst the other 3 (we had a schedule) entertained the campers or did their personal care if any of them needed it.

2:45 - 3:45 - session 3

4:00 - 4:45 - session 4 (cabin rotation - we would go around in our cabins instead of splitting off)

5:00 - 6:00 pm - we would feed the campers

6:00 - 7:00pm - we would have our own dinner, unless we were on dinner hang where we would do the same as those on lunch hang.

7:15pm - evening programme

8:00pm - campfire

8:30pm - snack

8:45pm - bed for younger campers, evening programme for older campers.

We would do their personal care and get them into bed - with the older age group we would be up until half 10 (sometimes 11pm) getting them ready and into bed; showering, changing, toileting etc.

Overall it was a pretty busy day! As a counsellor we provided the personal care throughout the day for our campers, ensuring their physical and emotional needs were met, whilst also taking them around the programs and activities - ensuring they were engaged and having a great time.

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

I enjoyed the more practical side of the job. Undertaking the personal care was fulfilling and it made me feel really useful.

I also enjoyed connecting with the campers, particularly the younger ones during Discovery camp (the session where I was with the youngest). It was such a great feeling making them laugh, and experiencing the funny things that they would say or do. I told a 7 year old camper that a triangle was the strongest shape during an activity where we were building fairy houses, and his response was 'no, a heart is'.

This job provided me with a vast amount of experience of working with children and young adults with disabilities. I learnt more about some of the challenges those with disabilities faced due to how inaccessible and segregated our society is.

It brought out qualities and skills in myself that I previously did not know I had. I felt inspired by both the campers and other members of staff, and enjoyed the whole experience thoroughly.

Challenging aspects

I had to deal with campers who had complex behavioural issues, anxiety and homesickness. This was emotionally challenging at times, particularly when some of the campers had debilitating conditions such as Duchennes muscular dystrophy (DMD).

It could also be physically challenging, particularly when lifting heavier campers aged up to 26 numerous times a day, not getting much sleep and working long hours.

As we were working long hours (7:30 am until 10:30 pm most days in each session) in a job which could sometimes be physically and emotionally challenging, I remained self aware and responsible for my own self care. This ensured I could overcome these challenges. I was also surrounded with so many positive and enthusiastic staff, which created an amazing work environment and helped me through more difficult moments.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

It has made me more open to working in a more hands on role in the future. I am working as a support worker throughout the year for young children, as well as adults with disabilities.

Although I still think I will be working in the political field, most likely for a Non Governmental Organisation or as a Political Journalist. This placement has made me more inspired to work for a disability charity or use my degree and political skills to be an advocate for disabled rights. Therefore I am now working as a fundraiser throughout my studies for the charity Scope.

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Form completed: 05 Sep 2017

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