THE CAMPING EXPERIENCE

Camp Yellow Bird is an annual Summer Camp for children and adolescents with diabetes. It provides traditional camping experience that combines educational information of daily diabetes management, real life experience and a variety of activities for recreation and fun. Camp Yellow Bird aims to:

  1. Provide a balance of scheduled activities in a safe healthy environment which enables campers to gain insight into their diabetes while having fun
  2. Promote comradeship and sharing of experiences with others who share a common challenge of living with diabetes
  3. Support the development of positive self-esteem
  4. Promote the development of independence and self-reliance
  5. Teach practical diabetes management techniques that are conducive to a healthy lifestyle – meal planning, physical activity, blood glucose monitoring, insulin administration and personal hygiene

Camp Yellow Bird was first implemented in 1992 through the foresight and instrumentality of The Diabetes Association of Jamaica (DAJ) and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation with technical support provided by the Ministry of Health. This effort was supported by a team of committed volunteers and parents that has helped to achieve the sharing and caring spirit that has been a hallmark of camp and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The eight-day camp accommodates 60-80 boys and girls ages 16-18 years depending on available facilities and finances since most of the campers have to be sponsored. Limited space availability has forced the management team to give priority to new and newly diagnosed campers. Camp is staffed totally by volunteers who have committed their efforts in working together to de-mystify diabetes.

The activities are implemented through the services of a camp coordinator, Public Relations Officer and a team of doctors, nurses, dietitians, trained counsellors, peer counsellors and parents. The range of activities is influenced by input from the campers and includes swimming, ball games, camp Olympics, nature trailing, hiking, table top games, art, crafts, talent shows, rap sessions, diabetes challenge quiz, diabetes education, nutrition education, camp fire, kangaroo court, and a banquet. Every opportunity at camp is used as a teachable moment. “The activities are age-appropriate and are carried out in family groups, which are separated by age-bands. By eating, sleeping, monitoring tests and injections and playing with the campers, staffs assigned to family groups are able to reinforce good care, correct problems and teach new skills. These are usually tailored and targeted to the needs of the campers.

Campers are drawn from all parishes and are usually referred through the hospitals, clinics and doctors in both public and private facilities. Some children with diabetes are identified in the school system by campers who meet them at school while some are referred by their teachers.

Funding

The camping activities are supported through a variety of fundraising activities undertaken by the camp committee. Support is also solicited from individuals and organizations to fund individual campers and programmes. Donations are usually in the form of cash and/or kind. Parents who can afford to do so pay for their children and some have generously sponsored an additional child. Campers who have benefited from the programme and are now employed have also contributed financially.

Achievements

Camp Yellow Bird has just completed ten years. Over this period we have grown and have noted the achievements of our campers:

  • Awareness. Through the activities of camp Yellow Bird, children with diabetes are now aware that there are other children with diabetes; they are more knowledgeable about diabetes and its management; other children as well as the general public are more aware that children have diabetes too and that these children have special needs. The management team is also more aware since we have become members of The Diabetes Camping Association (DCA) which is an international organization based in the United States and have benefited tremendously from the sharing of ideas, reassurance and the support offered to diabetes camps through this association.

 

  • A strong support mechanism for children with diabetes as well as their parents that is not available anywhere else in Jamaica. Campers have established a lasting bond that extends way beyond the life of camp and has no social or educational barriers. Campers learn to empathize rather than sympathize and help one another to ease the confusion and alleviate the fear that often accompanies the diagnosis of diabetes. There is strong networking among campers, camp staff, parents and the school system. Problems relating to their diabetes and other issues are usually communicated through the network and alleviated before they become emergencies. Camp Yellow Bird has established a parent support group that helps to provide emotional, educational, social and other forms of support including the provision of diabetes supplies and other forms of support.

 

  • Self-reliance and independence among campers. All campers are taught to measure and administer insulin, monitor and record blood glucose results, manage their meal plan and balance these with their activity levels. This is perhaps the most rewarding achievement to many campers and their parents.

 

  • Better diabetes management among children who attend camp. All children who attend camp and do not own a glucose meter are provided with a meter and a supply of testing strips to encourage blood glucose monitoring at home. Parents have reported a significant reduction in hospitalization, improvement in attitude to their diabetes care, more willingness to express their thoughts and feelings about having diabetes.

 

  • Positive self-esteem among campers. Many campers come to camp depressed, un‑motivated and de-moralized. The camping programme has fostered positive self‑image. Some campers have revealed various attempts at suicide prior to coming to camp because they thought they were the only ones with this dreadful disease. Many have reported improvement in grades and greater participation in school activities since attending camp. Many are now professionals, spouses, and parents, some returning to camp as counsellors, peer counsellors as well as other categories of camp staff.

Challenges

As the challenges of preventing and managing chronic diseases confront us, Camp Yellow Bird is aligning itself to move forward with a group of children who live well with diabetes. We cannot claim to be doing all that should be done for our campers. . As we implement the tools of commitment, we need help in terms of time, power, and the praise we give to our children and the support to extend the service to more of those who need it. There are still a number of areas that need to be addressed:

  • Providing the camping experience for all children with diabetes who would like to attend. Presently, priority is given to new campers and newly diagnosed children as our resources cannot accommodate the growing number of children. This decision is affecting the opportunity to continue to benefit from the experience and training to equip them to become counselors and peer counselors to ensure a continuous pool of resources from which to draw.

 

  • Procuring a campsite. Camp Yellow Bird rents facilities each year. These are becoming more expensive each year as the demand for campsites increase. Most campsites are owned by the churches and are used by them for in-house camps during the summer time.

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