Camp that targets a quality of life

Last updated 05:00 17/01/2014
GETTING INVOLVED: Mark Ludemann, a Camp Quality companion, shows 10-year-old Luke Tanner, who is recovering from cancer, how to use a bow at the annual summer camp at Governors Bay.
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
GETTING INVOLVED: Mark Ludemann, a Camp Quality companion, shows 10-year-old Luke Tanner, who is recovering from cancer, how to use a bow at the annual summer camp at Governors Bay.

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In his 11th year as a companion, Christchurch builder Mark Ludemann has been matched with first-time camper Luke Tanner, a softly-spoken 10-year-old recovering from cancer.

Together they shoot at targets in the woods - companion patiently showing camper how to hit a bullseye - and discuss shared interests like rugby. Luke lights up at the mention of his favourite team, the Crusaders, and his idol, Israel Dagg.

The pair are at Camp Quality, a week-long summer camp in Governors Bay where 42 children who have finished active cancer treatment take part in a range of activities.

Each camper is matched with a companion, a volunteer aged over 18, with whom they spend 24/7 with and often form lasting bonds.

Christchurch regional manager Robyn Burke says that while cancer is what brings the children to camp, the week is considered part of the "rehabilitation journey".

"These kids have had to grow up so quickly and deal with a really adult disease, our goal is to let them be kids again," she says.

Many of their stories have stuck with Burke during 12 years with the organisation.

In particular Sam, whose battle with cancer left him in a wheelchair with a feeding tube.

His mother felt he might be "too much" for the camp to manage, but Burke persuaded her to sign Sam up.

"On the first day of camp, Sam told his companion to leave the wheelchair at the front door, he wanted to walk."

That evening, Sam astounded staff again by announcing he felt like eating "real food" with the other campers.

"We checked it with the nurses and they said it was fine. From then on, Sam was the first camper at breakfast every morning."

Many children return to the camp each year, like Cassie, 11, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was eight months old.

Cassie says the friends she has made through the camp are special because they can relate to everything she has been through and her companion, Tasha, gently teases her about having her bags packed a week before camp started.

The campers have no contact with their families during the week and Burke admits the separation is probably harder for the parents.

Burke remembers a young boy who was in the final stages of his life. "He begged his mother to let him come to the camp so he could be around other kids and laugh. It struck me how hard it must be for her to give up one precious week of the time she had left with him."

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Camp Quality is run entirely by volunteers and at no cost to the campers or companions. It is funded through grants, donations and fundraising.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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