ERC Camp 1, July 2012

Eddie Rice Camps for Kids WA is an organisation that hosts camps and activities of varying lengths for children aged 7-16 who come from some kind of disadvantaged background (e.g. learning disabilities, financial problems, domestic abuse). I’ve been on one or two camps before, and helped out with a bunch of one-day activities, but I’ve sort of drifted away from them. Something about putting myself out of my comfort zone to help take care of other younger human beings usually fills me with anxiety, but this July I was feeling pretty okay about the idea. Simply put, the camp went as it always does, and the end result was an amazing experience for almost all the kids, and almost all the leaders.

I experienced the usual problems with the leaders before camp, not knowing anyone and being quite introverted and shy. I didn’t go out of my way to talk to many people, and I didn’t really trust anyone with letting them know the real me. When the kids arrived though, all of that didn’t matter in the slightest- there was no time or energy to spare on maintaining facades and acting cool; you woke early to be with the kids, you slept late to reflect on the day, and any time in between was spent desperately getting as much sleep as possible. Pretty much everyone really stepped up to do their share (particularly because there were 3 kids for every 2 leaders) and we bonded by necessity. And I experienced the usual problems after camp when the kids went home; after spending four days with 7-10-year-old children, everyone let loose and started swearing and teasing and being generally mean because they finally could. In the past I’ve felt betrayed by this sudden outburst of unkindness, like everyone was just pretending to be nice and that they were now revealing their true natures, but I’ve since realised that it’s an important part of camp and quite natural, even healthy. Having been detoxed, the leaders needed to release the toxins somehow and get it all out. Being highly sensitive to bullying, I just let the group run its course and withdrew until they were done and went back to their normal selves.

As for the kids, it was the last day of camp that was really special. On the first day, no one really knows or trusts each other, and everyone wants to see what they can get away with in terms of pushing boundaries and having fun. By the last day, most people are really good friends and almost everyone knows everyone else well enough to play with them, if not call them by name. There were no exceptionally bad kids, though a few did provide a bit of a challenge by running off, not joining group activities, acting hurt to get attention, blatantly breaking camp rules by swearing or climbing on things, and soiling themselves (which I didn’t find out about until after camp- the leaders apparently did a great job of being discreet). In terms of special moments, I got Bella to smile at me by telling her her name meant “beautiful”, and was invited to be part of her girls-only, no-leader secret group. Although it was a little perverse, Tyson finally stopped ignoring/disobeying me and actually called me “Uncle” to show that he considered me cool enough to be part of his family. I couldn’t stop grinning when 8-year-old Alex was explaining to me the rules of “Don’t Panic” and kept saying “Fwee” instead of “three”. I’m grateful that Shannae liked me enough to write me a warm fuzzy, even though all we did was play footsies under the table on the last night of camp- apparently, I make more of an impression than I realised. Oh, and Kiesha asked me if I had a girlfriend, twice. When Morgan put on that tie I knotted for him, he blossomed into the most amazingly confident MC I’ve ever seen in a kid, and no one can run with as much speed or agility as George. Seriously, I played chasey with him just once and it took me nearly a minute to catch him.

All things considered, all the problems during the first few days pale in comparison to the joy and wonders that manifest by the last day. On my very first camp when we were packing our bags and getting ready to board the bus home, someone exclaimed “Stupid fake family, stupid fake friends!” Something indescribable happens when you’re stuck with fourteen other people for five days with a common goal, and you bond with them in incredible ways- it makes life back home seem so insignificant compared to the joy and magic of being on camp. It’s been described as “the Eddie world” versus “the real world”, but I learned last night that the Eddie world is simply one facet of the real world. It exists in every day life, and it can be accessed if you look for it- camp magic is always with you, and you should never give up forget that there is a place where children can be safe and happy every day, because you made it so. The other important thing I learned is that it’s not entirely my responsibility to look after the kids and make sure everyone stays entertained- although I’m an older leader, it doesn’t make me in charge. I got pretty anxious on the third day because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Essentially, I learned the important lesson that there’s a whole flock of geese who are there to take care of the kids, and if I needed to hit the ground to rest and heal, I could do it and they’d accept me back as soon as I was ready. In essence, I needed to trust that it wasn’t all up to me, and that was really hard. In the end, I was given the honorary title of “the Crocodile”, a reference to Neverland (the camp theme), quietly working in the background and balancing everyone out with my quiet honesty. Also, as a random aside, I got up half an hour early every day to practice taiji and meditate, and it was really amazing watching the sun rise in those dark and early hours of the day.

And that was camp! Can’t wait to see Bethwyn and maybe get up early for more taiji and yoga tomorrow!