Lemon and Lime...

If you happened to be at Waterloo train station on Friday 19th August at approximately 1.30pm, you may have encountered a grown woman shaking her ‘booty’ to the chants of the small group of people surrounding her…..

So, how I did I end up booty shaking so publicly?  ‘Over the Wall’, that’s how!  I had heard about this Children’s charity that provides free residential activity camps for children living with serious illnesses for some time. I’m no stranger to medical volunteering but my main interests lie in oversees work so I had not really taken much interest in signing up to ‘OTW’ as a medic in the past.  That is until a fellow paediatric trainee described her experiences volunteering with the camp with such passion and enthusiasm that even I thought ‘really, is it THAT good?’  So, in the middle of August this year, I found myself heading up to the Midlands for 7 days of ‘Beach Patrolling’.

On arrival, I met up with the rest of the volunteers whom I would be working, singing and dancing with for the next 7 days.  All volunteers arrive 2 days before the campers arrive to give you time to go through protocols and take part in team building activities.  As a medical volunteer I was allocated to my group within the camp (Purple Girls) plus the Beach Patrol, a.k.a. the medical team. The majority of the first 48 hours we spent essentially familiarising ourselves with the clinical/medical aspects of camp, reviewing medical notes and care plans of the children attending camp; plus bonding with our groups and planning activities/themes for the week ahead.

As medical volunteers, we were based in ‘The Beach Hut’ – this is where the medications were given out 4 times a day. We were a mix of paediatric trainees, GPs and both paediatric and adult nurses.  With nearly 70 campers, who have a whole host of conditions, a lot of planning and organising went into this, starting with decorating the room with all things beach related. The idea behind this is that the children are here to have fun, learn new skills, become more confident and make friends. Any clinical aspect of the camp is made as fun and non-clinical as possible….

Once the campers arrived, they were clerked in, including making sure they had enough medication to last the week before they headed off to join their groups.  All clinical/medical information was confidential and only accessible to the ‘Beach Patrol’ volunteers; the team volunteers were debriefed with certain essential information about the campers they were responsible for but nothing that would identify their illnesses or conditions.

Our days started at 7.30am in the Beach Hut, prepping the meds and often getting your face painted by the team leader, followed by breakfast with your team, then back to the Beach Hut to give out said meds (plus maybe more face painting), before joining your teams for the various activities planned out for the day. Post lunch it was back to Beach Hut for more medication giving or organising, then back to the activities, then dinner, then back to Beach Hut…..You get the idea? They were generally very long and busy days.  Every night from 10pm there was a doctor and nurse ‘on call’ for emergencies plus during the day, one member of the Beach Patrol was based in the Beach hut for the campers and volunteers needing additional attention during the activities. We were dressed in pink t-shirts at all times, so that we were easily locatable in an emergency and always carried a medical kit with us.

As the week went on you got to know the campers in your group very well, watching them changing from shy and quiet children on day 1 to vocal, confident, sassy and outgoing campers by the end of the week.  Some of the activities they did, even I would be  worried to take part in, such as public speaking or singing and dancing to the whole camp during the talent show or scaling the great heights of the climbing wall…there were plenty of activities during the 5 days of fun!

As a paediatric trainee towards the tail end of training, it was the first time I really experienced the psycho-social aspect of chronic or serious illnesses in children outside of a hospital, particularly the impact it has on a child’s self-esteem and overall wellbeing. Watching them overcome their barriers, either physical or mental was inspiring.

The entire week was filled with noise, fun, songs (lots of songs!), fancy dress and face painting, and in this report of my time there, I really can’t do it justice enough.  I hope it’s maybe inspired you to check it out yourself.  It’s an amazing opportunity for the campers and for you.  A word of advice though; don’t forget your luggage at camp when you are escorting the campers back to their home base, or else your forfeit may too involve a booty shake or two, that is now forever captured on video and shared on a very popular social media site….I won’t put a link up, but if you do want to see me do my thing, you’ll need to sign up as a volunteer to access the page..…..go on, it really is THAT good (OTW that is, not my booty shake!)

For more information about Over the Wall check out their website:

http://www.otw.org.uk/about-camp/

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