JIS News

With the number of diabetes diagnoses increasing in the island, particularly among children and teenagers, the organizers of Camp Yellow Bird have continued to give young persons hope, by helping them to manage the illness for a longer, healthier life.
The annual event, established for children and adolescents with diabetes, is aimed at teaching them how to manage their condition, by providing guidance on how to develop meal plans and how to lead a healthy lifestyle. The participants also get the opportunity to interact with other persons who are affected by the illness, thus boosting their self-confidence and lifting their spirits.
“The camp aims to teach children of diabetics, to manage their condition in a real life conditions, so they will have their regular activities but they will learn to manage their diabetes while making regular choices about food,” said Mrs. Griffith.
She continued, “We wanted them to meet and live with other children who share their special challenges and to have fun, as Camp yellow Bird is about regular camping activities in a fun environment while they learn to cope with diabetes.”
The camp was created in 1992 through a collaboration of the Diabetes Association of Jamaica and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, with technical support provided by the Ministry of Health.
The eight-day camp accommodates 60-80 children between the ages of six and 18 years depending on the availability of facilities and financing, as most of the campers have to be sponsored.
Since inception, Mrs. Griffith there had been several achievements, chief among them being enabling the children to better monitor their condition.
“The children were able to monitor their diabetes, in terms of being more active, being able to understand their meal plan, understanding how to measure and inject insulin and to combine those things into living more healthy. We have had fewer hospitalizations, we have campers who have achieved their potential as they have gone through college and have now become professionals,” added Mrs. Griffith. This year approximately 50 children who are living with diabetes attended Camp Yellow Bird, which was held from Sunday, July 16 to July 23.
Funding for the camp, which was held at Hampton High School, in Malvern St. Elizabeth, is sometimes difficult to come by but this year, the Ministry, through the National Health Fund has continued to provide much needed support.
“Initially when we started we had to survive on seeking sponsorship for children, asking companies and individuals to help to sponsor a child, and service clubs as well. Currently the Ministry of Health provides most of the support for the camp through the Healthy Lifestyle Project, and the funding for this comes through the National Health Fund,” informed Mrs. Griffith.
She said sometimes sponsorship is offered in kind, such as food, and that this went a long way in keeping the campers happy.
Howard Forte, a Camp Yellow Bird Counsellor was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11. His mother Ellise Forte says her son was very apprehensive at first about going to the camp, but eventually bonded with the other children.
“I felt hopeless as it (diabetes) was not something that could be cured, but when I went to camp I saw other persons with the same condition at my age. This really helped me to see that it was not something that I was going to face alone,” said Howard during an interview with JIS News.
He added that the camp made him realize that diabetes could be managed and the activities allowed him to be better able to do so.
“One of the first things that they teach you is proper meal management, as most persons have this misconception that when you have diabetes you are limited from eating most things. But they taught us how to eat things in portions, like carbohydrates,” continued Mr. Forte.
He said he was taught how to monitor his blood sugar and how to take his insulin properly.
Since 2003, Mr. Forte has been working as a counsellor at Camp Yellow Bird and has helped other diabetics who are younger than himself. He noted that being a Counsellor allowed him to help other children realize that they had support.
Mr. Forte believes that Camp Yellow Bird is making a difference in the lives of young persons with diabetes.
Some of the activities at the camp include swimming, games, camp ‘Olympics’, nature trailing, hiking, table top games, art, crafts, talent shows, rap sessions, diabetes challenge quiz, diabetes education, and diabetes nutrition.
Camp Yellow Bird despite its success still faces a number of challenges, and one of these is the need for a permanent camping ground. “Most of the campsites are owned by churches and other organizations that have their camps in the summer time so it is difficult to find some place. and when we find one the affordability is a problem,” Mrs. Griffith disclosed.
“I hope there is a good Samaritan who can donate a piece of land or help us to find a piece at very nominal cost, so we can think of having a site of our own and that way we will be able to run the different camps that we are suppose to run and make it an income generating project as well, by making it available to other camps and other organizations,” she added.
Mrs. Griffith said it costs the organizers more than $900,000 to host the camp this year.
Campers are drawn from all parishes, spanning all socio-economic backgrounds and are usually referred through hospitals, clinics, and doctors in public and private facilities.
“Camp Yellow Bird has carved a role in keeping the nation healthy, and we anticipate the day when the camping for children with diabetes will be embraced as an important component in the development of this segment of our young population as they learn to live well with diabetes,” said Mrs. Griffith.