Delighted to introduce Charlotte Oatway on the excellent recommendation of her trusting dad! ;)
The first I heard of Bliss Habits was when my dad looked up from his laptop and announced “You’re writing a guest post for some blog. You can do it, right?”. This is fairly typical of mine and my dad’s relationship. I find myself being volunteered for one job or another on an almost daily basis. While I appreciate his high level of trust in my abilities, this is sometimes a little disconcerting – I never quite know what will be thrown at me next! Variety is the spice of life though, and if Dad thinks I can do it, I probably can. Even if I can’t trust in myself, I trust in my dad – he won’t send me off on some fools errand.
Still, it was certainly a challenge to write this blog post given the theme. Trust is something I’ve struggled with over the last few years. The phrase “the only man a girl can depend on is her daddy” (Frenchy in Grease, 1978) sums up the last 5 years or so quite nicely! Throw into the mix a few major let-downs by close friends and you have yourself one big Trust Issue.
There have been several positives that came out of all this, however. It has taught me to cultivate the view that everything happens for a reason. I might not know what that reason is straight away, I’m still waiting to find out for some things, but there will be one. After all – que sera, sera; whatever will be, will be.
Another big positive is that it gave me the push to apply for summer camp in the USA. Summer camp is something I’d always wanted to do. I even applied for a place when I was 18 but withdrew my application since it was my last summer at home before university. As the years went by I became sure that I would never get the chance. Life began to stand in the way. Then, all of a sudden, my life crumbled before my eyes. Devastating as it was, it set me free to pursue my dream. Within a week I had applied. Within three months I was on a plane to Indianapolis.
I arrived at camp, a non-profit organisation for “at-risk” children, in mid-May. Ahead of me was two weeks of hard-core training then seven weeks of camp sessions with children with special needs and from inner-city backgrounds. When I landed I was a jumbled mess of mistrust and emotional exhaustion. I hoped that camp would give me the opportunity to do something worthwhile. I hoped I could make a difference in even one child’s life. What I never expected was the difference they would all make in mine.
This summer camp is a place built on trust. It is the foundation on which camps thrive. Without trust, summer camp cannot and will not succeed.
Parents trust that their children will be safe and will have a good time. They send their precious babies off into the hands of strangers, trusting that the camp made the right choices when hiring.
Children trust that counsellors know best (sometimes!). They trust that their parents knew what they were doing when sending them out into the woods for a week. They trust that they won’t be eaten by bears or other monsters while camping. Ok, they don’t entirely trust this, especially not at 3am when they wake up to rustling in the trees…
Counsellors have to trust each other. They are a team. A cohesive unit. Each cabin group has two counsellors and unless they trust each other it could all fall apart. They have to trust that their co-counsellor has “got their back” and will give them the support they need, when they need it. They have to trust that the other counsellors will pull their weight, and that the head counsellors will step in if they’re not doing.
One of the weeks at my camp was dedicated to children affected by HIV and AIDs. This was a little unnerving at first. Several of the children were HIV+, but you only knew the status of the children in your immediate cabin group. That left another 80+ children with an unknown HIV status. Before camp began we were given training on Universal Precautions. A HIV/AIDs expert came in to speak to us and dispel myths about HIV and AIDs. We trusted this information, just as we trusted the American Red Cross nurse who taught us the universal precautions. It sounds simple enough, trusting people who are trained experts in their field. However, HIV and AIDs have significant stigmas attached and have dangerous repercussions if something, somehow, went wrong. Taking all this into account and the level of trust involved begins to rise.
During the staff training I made a joking comment to other staff that “I’ve got trust issues”, then thought nothing more of it. At the time I was writing my final assignment for a creative writing course I was doing, and I passed it to American counsellors to read over and check my American-isms. The next day (possibly a week after my original comment about trust) I received a “bead card” (form of positive reinforcement) congratulating me. This anonymous friend said “Well done on trying to work on your ‘trust issues’. Thank you for trusting us to read your assignment”. This simple message was very touching and helped me to see the progress I was making.
On my last day at camp, after a long, hard, fun summer, we had a final meeting. This meeting was after our staff awards ceremony and took place on the basketball court. It was 10pm and we all sat in a circle beneath the clear night sky. In the darkness we shared our “miracle moments”. These ranged from seeing the look on a child’s face when their “class-mates” made them a crudely drawn birthday card, to watching a youth-leader step up to the plate and show understanding beyond their years.
For me it was the changes I found in myself. I felt like myself again. I felt happy and I felt trusting. The counsellors, now my close friends, and the children had restored my faith in the simple goodness of people. I had learned to trust again. These crazy, manic, beautiful children had brought me back to life.
Summer camp was an exceptional experience – exceptionally exhausting and exceptionally rewarding. It was an experience I cannot wait to repeat.
Here’s to children. May they never lose their sweet ability to trust, to love and to rekindle hope in others.