This year camp Footprint was held on the 6 and 7 May at Kwalata Adventure Camp.
Many excited siblings were dropped off at CHOC house where they were collected for this exciting camp.

The diagnosis of childhood cancer or a life threatening blood disorder in a child changes a family’s life never to be the same again…roles, routines to mention but a few.

Amidst the emotional turmoil there is also so much more to do, sort and coordinate. Life is turned upside down and understandably the sick child becomes the parent’s priority. Healthy siblings are at risk of becoming the “silent sufferers”.

Children are very receptive; the siblings can see their parents are taking strain. They do not want to burden them further and not being sure how to handle the situation, keep quiet and withdraw. Parents in turn do not always know how to communicate this difficult information to their healthy children and with the perception to protect them do not always talk to them.

Siblings, in the process experience many conflicting emotions. The focus is on their sick brother or sister and they may be left on the side line. They experience a broad spectrum of feelings. They are concerned for their sick brother or sister and also feel fear and anxiety about what may happen to their family. They easily feel rejected and with it comes feelings of anger and resentment because the focus is on their sick sibling and the impact on their lives is not always considered. They may also carry the burden of guilt, thinking they have caused their brother or sister to get sick because of what was said in anger before…

Having identified all the above, JFF in partnership with CHOC hosted their first sibling camp in March 2013.

The aim and objectives of the camp was to let the siblings know they are not alone. The CHOC psychosocial staff and trained volunteers created a safe and contained space for the children to explore their feelings and any questions they may have around their brother or sister’s illness and to have these feelings and questions validated and answered.

Every year the same scenario play itself out…..The siblings are filled with anticipation and anxiety as we travel to Kwalata. Some of the children cling to their pillows or sit in the corner of their seat on the bus and do not interact with the other children but stay close to the adults accompanying them. These feelings are however short-lived as it does not take long for them to get involved and engrossed in all the camp activities. When the workbook activities start they realised they are not alone because all the children at camp have a brother or sister with cancer or a life threatening blood disorder. They often experience a tremendous sense of connectedness. It gives them the courage to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions around their brother or sister’s illness and how it impacts their lives. They share their feelings of guilt as often they feel they are to blame, how the fun disappeared from their home, and their worry for their sick brother or sister. During this time all their questions around the actual illness is answered and questions clarified.

It is an incredibly humbling and sacred experience to share in the siblings’ journey. It is absolutely amazing to see the transformation in them. They learn they are not alone, they can express their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment and have fun without feeling guilty. These experiences empower the children and every time it is ‘transformed’ children who leave the camp.

Following the camp parents share their gratitude. They are amazed at how empowered their children are. They feel it is a burden shared; they are now able to talk openly about the sick child. The siblings cannot stop talking about the fun they had and just want to know when they can go again!

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