According to Steve Jobs, “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
I recently volunteered at Camp Beyond the Scars, which is a week-long summer camp that the San Diego Burn Institute puts on for burn survivor children ages 5-17 in the foothills of San Diego County. Over 60 kids enjoyed camp this year from San Diego, Riverside, and Las Vegas.
This was my third local burn camp and I was blessed enough to spend a profoundly humbling and fun time with the teen girls. During our time together-as counselors and campers, friends and families, we learned to cultivate tools for healing, growing, and genuinely enjoying life.
Laughter and giggles were prevalent throughout camp. I mean, how can you not chuckle when the entire camp of over 100 people is rolling and slopping around in a giant, man-made mud pit?!?
We played tug-of-war, attempted a muddy obstacle course and scooted around on boogie boards while completely covered in mud. Scar tissue and life challenges were irrelevant as we were all having fun and in it together! There were dozens of fun activities, such as laser tag, a surf day in La Jolla, skateboarding, sports, crafts, a ropes course, rock climbing, a talent show, a massive slip and slide, a non-cook recipe class–just to name a few. Having fun, laughing until it hurt and providing unconditional support for one another promoted healing. Another tool utilized was the act of helping others.
One of the teen counselors, a burn survivor himself, had to leave a couple days early so he could get another skin graft on his neck. Even though he was facing another painful surgery, he made himself available to help and support others. Since he was tall, he let the little kiddos crawl all over him. Everybody else loved talking and smiling with him. He was nothing but helpful and positive. Self-pity or concern never surfaced, and he was consistently wonderful and fun to be around.
Navigating the world as a child or teen (especially as a teenage girl!) can be difficult in itself, and adding a traumatic burn injury to your life only compounds that challenge.
Camp Beyond the Scars provided peer support groups where campers shared their stories, listened to each other and learned that they were not alone.
The camp encouraged self-acceptance, self-love and communication as the path forward. Throughout camp, the younger children would look up to the older survivors and realize, if they can do it, so can I. If that burn survivor can have a girlfriend or boyfriend, drive a car, get a job, perform well in school, go to college, then so can I!
Nobody has to be paralyzed because of their past. They can, at every moment, grow into the human being they dream to be. A couple teens at the camp were very passionate about their singing and their involvement with their high school chorus. Burns to their necks and faces didn’t hinder their talents or courage and on the final night at camp as they rocked out a duet for the entire camp. One of those teenage singing queens plans on attending college for the performing arts when she graduates next year.
Life doesn’t always provide us what we want. Being courageous and taking calculated risks is one avenue for dealing with life’s challenges that we learned at camp. Take the fear of heights, for example. With the help of professionals and the proper safety equipment, most of the campers (and some of the counselors, including myself!) braved climbing a rock wall or walking on suspended ropes high up in the trees.
I screamed my lungs out while descending the zip line, while some of the other campers laughed, shrugged it off or shrieked themselves. Regardless of the fear of the unknown, we supported each other and were successful. If we can overcome a fear of heights, imagine what other life endeavors we can conquer? Given the courage and tools to handle life, the possibilities are endless.
The Burn Institute is a nonprofit organization, established in 1972, that helped found the area’s first and only Regional Burn Center.
In addition to organizing and funding an annual summer camp, the Burn Institute reaches thousands of children and adults by providing resources for lifesaving fire and burn prevention education, funding treatment and rehabilitation not covered by medical insurance and conducting burn survivor support programs that help burn survivors and their families with the emotional, psychological, and physical life changes from burn injuries.
For more information about Camp Beyond the Scars and the Burn Institute, visit burninstitute.org.