This year I made the decision to start volunteering for Diabetes UK on their Family and Children's Holidays. These events take place every year and they're run predominantly by volunteers, most of whom have Type One Diabetes or are affected by Type One Diabetes. I was diagnosed with Type One at 11 years old, I was always a home bird so didn't ever have the desire to be away from home let alone go away for a week. By the time I was around 18 and too old to go on a Diabetes UK Holiday I realised that I really regretted not going on one of the holidays as a child and decided that volunteering would be the next best thing and I knew it would be super rewarding. I've always done the "high-profile" things to raise awareness of Type One Diabetes like going to Parliament and attending cool events and writing this blog and although I have loved and love doing it all, I wanted to do something on a personal, smaller scale, something that will have a more direct and positive impact on the lives of those with Type One Diabetes and even their parents.
May 2017 saw me take part in my first event as a volunteer when I went to volunteer on a Family Weekend. On the Family Weekends the children go back to their parents in the evening and our jobs as volunteers are mainly during the day. The Family Weekends are a wonderful and thoroughly enjoyed by both children and their parents. It's a chance for the children to meet other children with Type One Diabetes but it's also a chance for their siblings to meet other siblings of a child with Type 1. Furthermore, it's a chance for the parents to meet other parents and essentially get a little "break" from dealing with Type 1 for a few hours each day over the weekend. This was my first experience of volunteering on an event so of course I was a little bit apprehensive and not sure exactly what to expect, but the other volunteers made me feel so welcome and I couldn't fault them in any way. it was a wonderful first experience and spurred me on to want to do a week-long event.
That brings us to August this year, I volunteered on a week-long Holiday for 8-10 year olds. On the week-long events the children get dropped off by their parents and all spend a week playing games and doing fun activities and getting to know other children with Type One Diabetes, it's also a chance for them to try to be a little bit more independent. The week-long events are definitely more full on than the weekend because our responsibility not only lies during the day but during the night too, it's pretty much guaranteed that you won't be in bed before at least midnight, unless you're on night-check duty then you won't get to sleep until the early hours! It all sounds intense, but when you have an amazing group of volunteers around you it's actually really good fun.
The activities on the week-long event included High Ropes, Canoeing, Abseiling, Campfire, King Swing, and loads more. I only had one reservation before Volunteering on this event, I'm terrified of heights! However, I think this made me want to volunteer on the event more, because I wanted to set myself a personal challenge. Haha! Every single day is filled with fun and adventure, and watching the children take part in the activities was so lovely, to see them forget about having diabetes and just have fun. As volunteers we took part in the activities too (it's definitely not compulsory but it's nice to take part, and you'll find the children really want you to take part too!) and the activities that required me to be any more than a foot off the ground made me quite nervous to say the least, however looking back I am proud of myself because I managed to abseil. I had every expectation of getting to the top of that tower and wanting to go back down...however there were a few things that stopped me coming to this decision:
1. You had to climb ladders to get to the top, and climbing back down all those ladders did not appeal to me.
2. I would have really regretted it if I didn't at least try.
3. One of the little girls in my group exclaimed: "I'll do it after Ellie does it!!"
...Damn. However, I knew as soon as she said it that I had to do it, for her, for me, to get to the bottom! I had a little girl who was just as, if not more scared than I was relying on me, so I sucked it up, felt the fear and did it anyway. I'm so glad I did and straight after me she did it too and I was so proud of her, and me! Another activity I was apprehensive about was Canoeing, but again I put on that life jacket, picked up that ore and got into the canoe. I have never stepped foot in a canoe in my life, let alone be in a canoe with three 8 year old girls and having to teach them how to use their ores! It was an experience to say the least, one of the girls is terrified of spiders so she spent a lot of time trying to move from the spiders that were on the bottom of the canoe and almost capsizing the boat when she slid from side to side! I stepped on a few so she could have a good time and not worry about the spiders and all was calm until "There's a mouse in the boat!!" Oh hell no. I was determined not to get wet so all I was saying was "Please stay sitting!" Anyway turns out it was a Shrew and the girls did amazingly well in ignoring it and it enjoyed it's journey with us around the lake. We also had a competition to see who could turn their canoe 360 degrees the quickest and we beat the boys! It was little moments like during abseiling and canoeing that I sit back and dwell on now and think, I totally made the right decision volunteering.
Seeing the children get the most out of it and learn how to be a bit more independent with their diabetes and being the ones to help them do that is so rewarding and both the weekends and the week-long events are a truly amazing experience. You do have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders though, because despite it being truly fun, they are children & the children do have Type One Diabetes and as we all know, that requires a lot of attention! Blood sugar checking is in abundance as well as cannula changes and injections and boluses...all of which volunteers help out with and oversee. At meal times everyone carb counts and this is a good chance for the children to learn more about it. There are Health Care Professionals such as nurses and doctors and dietitians who volunteer on the camps too.
Every second volunteering on these Holidays is enjoyable and post-camp blues are truly a real thing. You spend a weekend or a week with all of these wonderful people and children with Type One Diabetes or who have been affected by Type One. Your fellow volunteers are a support network, all looking out for each other and helping one another and you all get to know each other fast. You also realise the resilience of children and although I have Type One myself and was diagnosed as a child too I'm always in awe of children with Type One because they deal with it with such grace and they're there to have fun, and let me tell you, they bounce right back even after a low or a high blood sugar or a stressful cannula change.
It's rewarding and it's character building and I wouldn't change the experiences I've had volunteering for the world. I hope I get accepted on the Holiday's that I apply for next year. If you're thinking about volunteering I really, really recommend it, you won't regret it.