I have an almighty thank you to send to you so be prepared; this is a big one!
Barretstown is my favourite place in the world. There is no other way to describe it. It has changed my life, and I really mean that. I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2005 when I was 12 years old and it changed everything about me; I became shy, quiet, lost confidence and felt alone. Then I went to Barretstown.
I first went in 2007 in my last year of treatment and that was when everything changed. I made friends who knew exactly what I was going through and who I could speak to about anything. I did activities like high ropes, horses, canoeing, archery that I had never done before and never thought I could do. For the first time in years I had fun. I laughed so hard I cried and I did not want to leave.
When I came home I felt so different. Everything was so much more optimistic and I decided to live life to the full. I gained more confidence and I started to really enjoy life again.
I went again in 2008 when I had finally finished my treatment, worried that nothing could beat my first year at camp. I was wrong. For one thing it was a very unusually hot and sunny 10 days in Ireland and again I surprised myself with what I could achieve like getting up to sing karaoke with one of the caras. And I’m not a singer 🙂 I also really fell in love with the food and of course the dancing after dinner – what can beat that? I went home that year knowing I had to come back for that one last time and I spent the entire year getting excited about going back. I was also doing well in school, catching up with everyone, gaining more and more confidence and becoming my old self again.
In 2009 I came back Barretstown for the last time as a camper and I lived every last minute of the session to the full. I could see the immense change in myself from when I first came to camp to my last time at camp. I had also come back with one of the friends from my first year at camp and she is definitely a friend for life. I was very emotional on the last day and coming home because I did not want Barretstown to end. At the same time I felt so proud of myself and all I had achieved and I was so thankful for those amazing 3 years at Barretstown.
Thankfully in that last session I found out about the C.I.T. programme and that they were letting teens from the UK come over in 2010 to do the programme. I applied as soon as I could with my friend and was so excited when they accepted me. We went to a 7 day kids session in the summer which was very exciting and different as I had only ever been to teens camp. It was definitely hard work but SO worth it. I was there with my friend Jess, one other girl from the UK and a whole bunch of crazy, amazing Irish teens. Most of them had done the L.I.T. training and so were able to give us an insight on what to expect. We spent the week with 3 caras learning and discussing about being a leader, what you need to think about and be aware of, what it involves. We also spent time shadowing different activity leaders and caras, helping them to look after the kids, to run special day and to run an evening programme which involved me having wet sponges thrown at my face by the campers. All good fun! I loved every minute of it, of sharing my experience as a camper and giving back to all the new campers. It was scary to begin with to talk to large groups of kids and to communicate with the international campers but as the week went on I think we all relaxed and became confident in ourselves and our abilities as leaders. Again it was very sad to leave camp but we knew we had a family camp in October to look forward to as our very last, reunion camp at Barretstown.
This again was a new experience for me. I loved the atmosphere of family camp and it was great to see whole families enjoying themselves and having fun. We got a lot more free time together as a C.I.T. group and got to venture the high ropes once more which is scarier as you get older we found! There was still that sense of accomplishment afterwards though, and we got to shadow more activity leaders with a banquet and the last evening programme. Coming away from camp was somewhat easier this autumn. Yes I was devastated to leave but I thought of all the wonderful memories of camp I have and I feel confident that I will return to camp as a cara someday.
Barretstown is always hard to explain. When I tell my friends that we dance around the tables for our food and then dance again after we’ve eaten our food, they do think I’ve gone slightly mad. It’s one of those things you have to experience to fully understand. I always think it’s such a shame you have to be ill to experience Barretstown but I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened in my life for the world. I am extremely honoured to be a part of Barretstown and I can’t wait to experience more magic there in the future as a cara and to hopefully give other children the fun and laughter that I have experienced there myself. All of the staff are amazing and I can’t thank them enough. It really is magical.
Thank you for everything.