In 2000, Camp Kesem was founded at Stanford University by a Iris Rave and a group of 4 other student leaders with a goal to bring magic to families coping with cancer. They chose the word "Kesem" because in Hebrew, the word means "magic." Since it's creation, the organization now has expanded to over 100 chapters nationwide. This past week, in May of 2018 I was lucky enough to volunteer as a Blue Unit Counselor for Camp Kesem at the University of Kansas. It was an experience that has changed my life in ways I cannot ever describe, and it was truly an experience that I will cherish forever.
This past week, I was fortunate enough to spend my time living in a cabin with 14 beautiful, strong, and inspirational young ladies who were just 9-11 years old. While I have been a camp counselor now for 3 years, this week was unique. At a brand new camp with brand new people, I will be the first to admit that I was incredibly nervous. In fact, before this week began, I deeply considered leaving the camp. Even after the first night, I was exhausted and run down, and I had no idea how I would make it through an entire week.
Looking back, I cannot believe I ever second guessed my decision. As I got to know each of my campers on a more individualized level, I realized how special each child was, and how truly blessed I was to be part of their story. Camp Kesem serves a very special group of children, who have each been affected by a parent's cancer. Some have parents who are currently in treatment, some who are survivors, and some who have lost the battle. This camp is free to the families to provide a week away for the kids to just be kids.
We as college students spend our whole year preparing. We reach out to families and professionals, we plan activities for camp, and we fundraise thousands of dollars to keep the experience entirely free for the families. But, nothing we do prepares us for the life changing experience that the week really is. Every hour we spend training, crafting, and fundraising was made more than worth it when we got to meet each child, hear their story, and see their smiles during the week.
While the camp is created for children whose parents have been affected by cancer, we are not a therapy camp. We dedicate our week to having fun, and giving these children the best week of their lives. Often times, it turns into the best week of ours as well. We spend the week doing camp activities, singing camp songs, and getting messy. But, we still spend time getting to know one other, sharing experiences, and letting the kids know that they are not alone.
Each day, I got to meet a new child with their own story. Each one had been touched in a different way. Throughout the week, my eyes were opened to how much of a blessing their existence to this world really is. I have never in my life met wiser, stronger, and kinder 9-11 year olds as I have in this week.
Countless times throughout the week, I was thanked by a child simply for volunteering my time to be there. I was thanked for a simple task or for leading an activity. I witnessed children speaking unprompted words of advice and kindness to one another. Among them was a quote from an 11 year old that I will never forget: "Don't let anyone judge you, you're perfect just the way you are."
At the end of the week, I was lucky enough to meet several of my camper's parents. I tried as best as possible to explain to them how truly special their kids are. But the truth is, no words can describe it. I still struggle to put into words what this week as meant to me, and the ways in which I am forever changed by this experience. I want to praise these children over and over for how much they will offer this world, for how much strength they hold, and for how truly precious each one of them is.
At one time during the week, we were asked a simple question: "Why do you Kesem?" Before this week, I had thought very deeply about the question. Before this week, I thought I knew the answer. But after this week, there was not a doubt in my mind.
I Kesem for these kids. I Kesem to see their smiles. I Kesem so that they know they are supported, so that they know they are never alone. I Kesem because they have changed my life in ways that they will never know. I Kesem for these kids.
One quote truly describes it better than anyone else. An 11 year old camper said to us as counselors, "I know Kesem means magic, but to me, it means family." And if that quote doesn't tell you what this camp means, than I simply don't know what will.