Children from cancer-stricken families find hope and support at Camp Simba

SINGAPORE, 1 June 2018 - Stepping into the teenage years has its fair share of psychological ups and downs. This phase turned into even more of an unexpected roller coaster ride for Phyllis Wang Pei Ning. Her family had learnt about her father’s diagnosis of colorectal cancer in 2014, when she was just 13.

Within days, the Wang family’s normal life was taken away, and with it, their children’s childhoods. Both Phyllis, and her younger brother, Nicholas Wang Wei Jie, then 12 years old, had to learn to make sense of the situation that cancer had imposed on their family.

To help children like Phyllis and Nicholas address and cope with their emotional needs during these trying times, Camp Simba was formed in 2009. Since its inception, Camp Simba has been jointly organised by students from Duke-NUS Medical School and NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. 

Currently, the focus of psychosocial care provided by different organisations in the context of cancer is on the patient only. The needs of caregivers and other family members are often neglected or left unaddressed. Children are likely to be the last in this order as the adults in the family are often grappling with the situation themselves. Camp Simba strives to fill this gap by providing a safe and conducive environment for these children to have fun and let them enjoy their childhood moments, while helping to build their resilience and courage. 

Phyllis and her brother, Nicholas, are among over 60 children every year who benefit from Camp Simba. “This camp was a place where I met many others who faced the same issues and struggles that I have. Getting to know how they resolved their challenges has given me lots of motivation to solve my own. It somehow felt empowering and I found myself asking, ‘if others can do it, why can’t I?’” said Phyllis.

Making Space For Sustainability 

This year, to mark its 10th year of touching lives, and as a first in Camp Simba’s history, it will introduce a new mentorship concept. Its campers will be divided into “families”, where the older campers will take on an elder brother’s or sister’s role for the younger campers in the same family. This new family system will form the foundation of its mentorship programme that is in the pipeline.

For past campers who have reached the age limit (16 years and above) of the camp, they will be included in an Alumni network, ‘Simba Siblings’, that will be soon established, with the aim of involving them in the planning and volunteering for future versions of the Camp.

Over the long term, the goal is for the Alumni Association to take ownership of the project, from planning to executing the event, with the guidance and support of medical students from Duke-NUS Medical School and NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine as their mentors.

Mr Sun Joon Hwang, 24, a first year student at Duke-NUS Medical School, who is a facilitator and member of the organising committee for Camp Simba, relates personally to the struggles of these children. “My Mum was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was in 7th grade. And I remember how it was very challenging to process what was happening with her condition. Fortunately, I could talk things out and share my concerns with my elder brother. So, I know how a community of support can make a big difference for these children,” he said.

Sharing a similar experience is Miss Low Cher-Lyn, 21, a second year student at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the leader of the organising committee of Campo Simba. At just 5 years old, she had found it challenging to grasp the concept of her grandmother’s colorectal cancer. “I feel this camp is meaningful as it allows these children to just step out of the harsh reality and enjoy themselves as children and have fun with their peers.”

This year, to kickstart these plans, past campers will be involved to give their feedback and suggestions for improvement. Next year, there are plans to implement these past participants as volunteers and facilitators, through a specialised training programme to equip them with the necessary skill sets. For now, Phyllis has already raised her hand to be part of this. “I really want to give back through the Alumni Association because I have gained so much from this camp. I want other youths like us to have this circle of friends they can bond with for many years” she said. Phyllis and her brother will be joining the camp for the second time this year, from 1 to 3 June 2018.

In addition, Camp Simba will merge with its sister camp, SCS Camp Rafiki this year, and expands its target age group to 7 to 16 (from 7 to 12). This move brings together children of two different age groups, aiming to build a larger and more supportive community, where both young children and teenagers can learn from different experiences and serve as a source of inspiration and strength for one another in their journey.

 

For media enquiries, please contact Naseema Banu, Duke-NUS Communications.