ChaiSpotlight: Rachel Brown

Hi, My name is Rachel Brown, and I would like to share a bit about how Camp Simcha and Chai Lifeline Canada have successfully impacted me in an immeasurable way. I’ve been involved in Chai Lifeline Canada over the past few years, but last summer I had the chance to go to the happiest place on Earth, where is that? It’s Camp Simcha: it like Disneyland, Canada’s Wonderland, and the largest candy store all rolled into one! I had the opportunity to be a counsellor in Camp Simcha Special, which was the most incredible experience ever!!! Camp Simcha is Chai Life Line Canada’s camp, for children with either oncological and hematological disorders or chronic illness; big words for little kids (or even adults, I had to Google them). Unfortunately, this causes the campers to have to grow up really fast. Going to camp provides them with an opportunity to be a kid again and just have FUN, FUN and More FUN!!!!

From the moment we stepped off the bus, we entered a new world. The entire camp was waiting to greet us, and serenade us in camp songs, dancing with tons of energy even though it was raining and we were the last bus to pull in. Then Rivky Schwartz introduced each camper by name to the entire camp, welcoming them back. Each camper got off the bus, more excited than the next, to be back in their haven, they joined in the dancing and hugging and reuniting. Then the two week camp marathon started and we didn’t stop till the end, CHAI on SIMCHA, the tangible camp spirit.

The days at camp are jam packed from morning to night, with activities, shows, concerts, and sometimes even helicopter rides and of course every night concludes nigh with a huge canteen! Every day has a new and exciting theme, which they creatively incorporate into decorating the camp itself. In addition, all the staff and campers come decked out in crazy costumes every day!  At the end of each meal in camp there is singing and dancing with so much spirit it actually shakes the floors and windows!! As a counsellor in one of the older bunks we would get to our bunk house for curfew (sorry Rivky we didn’t actually go to sleep) only to have midnight parties. We basically stayed up all night, playing games, eating (a lot of the happens in camp re: free canteen, free soda machines), joking and talking. This is when I got a real chance to learn what Camp Simcha means to the campers. For them, camp is an oasis away from doctors, hospitals, and tests. It is a break from reality. For two weeks they are not their illness, not held back because of it, no one in camp cares what each other’s diagnosis is. Everyone at camp is there to have an amazing crazy fun-filled time and make the most of those two special weeks. Most of the campers attend regular schools, where none of their friends fully understand what being ill means, having to be in the hospital for months, undergoing surgeries. Because who can? Who can better understand than someone who underwent a similar situation? Their Camp Simcha sisters understand them so well, they support each other during the really rough times. The Camp Simcha magic stays with the campers all year long, until the following summer.

What I want to tell you is the magic stays with the staff as well. Regardless of your position or title in camp everyone gains from the experience. As a counsellor, I really learned a lot from my campers. Their ability to maintain a positive attitude even through the hard times, is really true simcha. I also learned to appreciate all I have, from the campers who celebrate what they have and not what they are lacking. They recognize their amazing abilities instead of the disabilities. I am super excited to share we are up to single digits in the countdown (we started counting on the last day of camp last summer) to when we finally can go back to camp, and I can’t wait to be back there in the happiest place on earth!!!

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