Published Wednesday 14 Dec 2022

Where friends and connections are made!

In October, staff from the Diabetes and Child Health teams in Wellington and the Hutt Hospitals supported the Diabetes Youth Wellington Camp (DYW) held at El Rancho, Waikanae.
The annual camp is one of the most exciting and anticipated events for the 8-17 year-old campers, volunteers, and medical team alike, with Children and Youth with Diabetes Nurse Practitioner Gilli Lewis calling it a place, “where friends and connections are made”.
This year’s camp was more significant as the initial 2022 camp was cancelled in January due to COVID-19, which for most of the 51 type-1 diabetic kids (31) and youth (18) attendees was like a death sentence.


We spoke to Gilli, and Natalie Gibson from Diabetes Youth Wellington to find out about this camp and what makes it so compelling.



What is the purpose of this camp?

Natalie: “One of the main things is to give families respite care which they don’t often get. They’re living with type-1 at home so it’s to give them that break. But it also gives campers a chance to meet and make connections with others, living in the same shoes as them. Plus it’s a chance for the medical team to carry out education, such as preparing tamariki for when they go to camp with school and showing them they can do these things.”
Gilli: “Yeah, the education side of things is a major point of this camp as we show them how to manage their diabetes more independently, because their parents are probably doing a lot of the work. But they get supported by youth leaders here too, who once came to this camp themselves and are also 90 percent type-1. But building relationships is a major reason we do this camp.”
Is the camp fun as well as educational?
Gilli: “They all have an amazing time. There are so many activities for them to do, so they go swimming, go down the water slide, horse riding, kayaking, rafting you name it.”
Natalie: “It’s a lot of fun, not just for the kids, for us too. But we make sure there are plenty of things for them to do and there is non-stop fun for everyone.”
How rewarding is it to be involved with this camp?
Gilli: “It’s my favourite week of the year, no question. It gives me motivation to do more for my job and it give me an appreciation of what these kids are living with every day and what the parents are having to deal with. It humbles you and makes you a better practitioner. But you also build a rapport with the kids and all the health professionals have said that. So when the kids come to the clinic and they see the consultant who went down the water slide with them, they won’t fear them. It builds relationships which is key, and it’s really worth it putting in all the effort to facilitate it.”
Natalie: “It’s so rewarding. I’m type-1 diabetic and when I was 16 I went to camp for the first time. There were a couple of years after when I was too old to go to camp before I became a camp leader and in those couple of years I was completely lost. I knew no one, I had lost all my network of people with type-1. Camp now is when I reconnect with my network. Now, I get refuelled at camp and it gets me out of burn out, and I get just as much out of it as the kids, medical team and the parents. To meet and be around others with type-1 is amazing, because it can be quite a lonely world out there.”
What has the feedback from the families been like?
Gilli: “The parents love what their kids get from this camp. First-time parents are always nervous because they’ve had to be so careful with them even at school, and kids don’t go on sleep overs. They’re just so nervous about what’s going to be happening to them overnight, thinking is there going to be anybody checking them like I do etc. So knowing a medical team is there is reassuring and it’s hard to let go as they always want to check-in. The second year they drop them off and go. They also suddenly realise they don’t have to check on them all the time and they can focus on the other kids in the family.”
Natalie: “It’s a safe situation for learning and we’ve gotten great feedback from parents who have seen their kids become more independent about taking care of themselves which is a big deal to them.”
How amazing are the volunteers and medical team doing their part at camp?
Gilli: “I absolutely adore the young people who help lead. I feel so proud of them, most of them work to pay for university fees or rent but they take a week off unpaid to volunteer from 6.30am to midnight looking after other kids. And it’s just selfless giving and they’re also trying to manage their condition as they mostly have type-1 themselves. I’ve known most of them from when they were kids. Also, this camp can’t run without the medical support and therefore, the fact that our department supports us to attend is significant. And all the health professionals that come, the nursing students, the paediatric registrars, they say they learn more about diabetes at camp than they do the rest of the year. They also get a lot of out this camp.”
Natalie: “It’s just the fact that they’re living it with us. They are there when the kids and leaders are testing; they’re there when we’re giving insulin; they’re there at the swimming pool where its absolute chaos and you’re trying to count carbs and asking how much swimming you did, and balancing everything. But it’s not until you actually live it, once you’re at camp, that you appreciate and understand what the parents are going through on a day-to-day basis.”
How relieved are you that camp got the green light for October after it got cancelled in January?
Gilli: “So relieved. After having missed out on staging the camp in January, it honestly took me a month to recover from the disappointment, so I was overjoyed to know it was back on in October.”