Jane, April and Siôn, have a great BigMouthCamp.org.au
Occasionally there are somethings that profoundly change your life. Even rarer though is the opportunity to take part in something that not only changes your life but the lives of others: Big Mouth Camp is one of those things. This weekend three of our church members get the opportunity to change lives and have their lives changed. This weekend is the BIG MOUTH CAMP!
For those of you who don’t know what Big Mouth Camp (BMC) is here is some information from the camp website (www.bigmouthcamp.org.au);
The Big Mouth Camp is a residential camp for students from 6 to 15 years of age, who use speech generating devices. The camp is also for their families and carers. The primary aim of the camp is for the children using the device to improve their device use and become much more competent communicators in a fun and relaxing atmosphere.
Intensive communication therapy will be provided each morning and the afternoon will involve activities and opportunities for everyone to practice the skills they have learnt in the morning. Separate sibling recreation sessions will be conducted in the mornings, and this time will also provide parents/carers to discuss and work on issues around augmentative and alternative communication.
The camp will also be offering mentoring from experienced adult communication device users, training from device manufacturers / support staff, sessions on related disability computer software and much more!
BMC was set up by Jane Farrall (one of our church members) and has been running for 9 years. The Church helps support Big Mouth and has for most of the camps. It is one way we see to help the community around us.
The camp changes lives – it changes the lives of the volunteers who staff the camp. Speaking from personal experience; I went to the first camp having no experience talking to children with complex communication needs and physical disabilities. I will admit I was anxious, even scared as to how to approach and interact with the kids. It took me less than 10 minutes to discover that these were just kids, in every way. One young girl, who was 7 and who shall remain nameless (but SHE knows who she is), took great delight in calling me a pig. She can’t talk without her communication device but her sign language is very clear! Over the next few days, every time she saw me, she would make the sign of ‘pig’ and laugh so hard she would nearly cry. She still does it when we meet! She was just a little girl having fun at my expense. There are girls in church who do similar things every Sunday – call me names and laugh!
Another year one of the boys found out I played rugby (very badly) and we spent hours chatting – him on his device and me with my loud voice about the rules and the great players and the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
A role model comes every year. An adult who uses a communication device who can tell the kids and the families about their experiences – the good and the bad. All these role models (and there have been several of them) are wonderful people who I am proud to say call me their friend. Meeting them at camp never fails to impress upon me how great some people are!
But it isn’t just me who has had my life changed – I think you could talk to almost anyone who has volunteered at BMC and they will tell you similar stories of how their lives have altered. Some of the therapists at this year’s camp were students a few years ago and have qualified and asked to come back and help. Big Mouth has that effect on people. It changes you – forever.
But it is not just the staff who gain benefits from BMC. The campers and their families also see the amazing things that happen – and in fact the camp is designed for them. I will tell you one story of one family from one year. Maybe 50 families have come to camp over the years and all would have great stories to tell.
So let me tell you just one story of one family from one year. A child came to camp (let’s call him Dylan) with his family. Dylan didn’t use his communication device often and therefore didn’t really have a voice. All the family came, mum, dad and brother and it was quite obvious that dad really didn’t want to be there. At the therapy session on the first day Dylan saw all the other kids there using their devices and talking away and he started to use his. By the end of the morning he was getting the hang of it. It was slow going and he made a few mistakes but he kept on working. The day wore on and Dylan kept learning.
That night there was footy on the telly and Dylan’s dad sat down to watch his favourite team – let’s pretend it was the Bulldogs. Everyone was doing their own thing waiting for the evening activities to start. I went off to sit in a corner to catch my breath and grab a few minutes rest.
Stuff began happening, games were being played, fun was being had. After about an hour I sat back in my quiet corner and heard two people talking – one male voice and one child’s voice coming from a device. I also heard crying. I popped my head around to see if everything was alright and saw Dylan and his dad deep in conversation about their beloved Bulldogs. Dad had tears streaming down his face. They stayed there for hours – father and son talking footy.
Later I learned what had happened. Dylan had gone over to his dad as he watched the game, got his attention and asked, “Why are the Bulldogs so shit this year?” Dad looked at Dylan and said it was due to the fact they had bad players. Dylan disagreed and so the conversation began. All dad had ever done with Dylan was take him to the footy and Dylan asked questions about every game. Dad answered and as the conversation went on the tears flowed. Dylan and his dad had never really spoken before but that night a man and his son bonded over a fairly mediocre footy team.
Dad wrote to the camp organisers a few weeks later, a letter of thanks in which my favourite lines were, “Thank you for finding a way to let me talk with my son. Now I can’t keep him quiet, it’s brilliant!”
That’s what Big Mouth does – it changes people, forever!