It isn’t spectacular that every time that question is posed, a room full of over 200 campers and volunteers responds, “We feel so good!” It isn’t even spectacular that this response comes at 7a.m. with more enthusiasm than I normally encounter at 3 in the afternoon. It’s a cheer: everyone is supposed to respond that way: eagerly and in unison. What is spectacular about this roaring response is that almost half of these cheerers are answering this question in a context with which most of us are quite familiar, when they may be more accustomed to another: that of medicine.
Although in many ways the campers at Victory Junction are very similar to those one might expect to find at any summer camp—excited, slightly nervous and always ready for what’s next—there are many things that set them apart. The same is true for the camp itself. As a whole, Victory Junction seeks everyday to empower children with serious illness and chronic medical conditions by providing them with opportunities to take on truly life-changing experiences. I spent one mere week out of my summer volunteering for Victory Junction out in rural North Carolina, and my life was changed as if I had been there a year.
One of the more describable impacts that Victory Junction had on my life was its addition of a completely new dimension to my view of illness. The majority of the work that I have done with Global Health Forum over the past year has been focused on saving and sustaining life: the illness (in this case, malaria) was something that took life, and we needed to preserve it. There are campers at Victory Junction who will pass away before the next summer, or even the end of this one, but more campers will live. For those campers, illness is a part of life, not just death. The point of camp is not to keep them alive, but rather to enrich the very distinct life that they have. Despite their various disabilities, these campers will not simply survive; they will ride horses and go swimming and play kickball. They will even make it to the top of a climbing tower and get in a hot air balloon. When they yell, “We feel so good!” they will be referring not just to their medical state, but also to their emotional enthusiasm and excitement.
Victory Junction has taught me not to approach illness with an eye reserved for the physical quality of life of it’s victims, but of their mental and emotional health as well. It is not enough simply to live—the goal should always be to love life. And while in many circumstances this goal is, as of now, unattainable, I continue to be inspired by the thought that every week, more campers at Victory Junction are able to “smile out loud.”
This article was written by Jes Downing, currently a sophomore at Swarthmore College and an Executive Board Member of the Global Health Forum.
This post was written by melissa.frick