The ‘flagship’ offering from UKANDU, “Camp UKANDU” has been providing a week of ‘outrageous fun’ to children ages 8-18 since 1986.
When a family learns that one of their children is diagnosed with cancer, the last thing most of them want to do is send that child away from the family for a week. Time becomes more precious than it has ever been known. Parents are understandably covetous of the time and a future that is too often cut short.
However, our families recognize their children’s health is reflective of more than their medical condition. Children need to socialize and play and grow. Camp Ukandu offers a place where Pediatric Oncologists and Pediatric Oncology Nurses are on staff 24/7, along with 100+ other volunteers to address the care and well-being of these kids. Many children are, in fact, on treatment while at camp. But no one lets that stop these kids from climbing four stories into the air on a rock wall; hopping on a smelly horse or cooking s’mores over an open flame.
Currently, each year, Camp Ukandu serves roughly 132 children. Our campers are patients, and siblings of patients, ages 8–18. In these formative years, “normal” childhood development is a challenge. School studies, making friends, trying out for sports teams, joining activity groups and other clubs - these are some of the many ways most children seek to determine where they belong in “normal” society.
But if you’re a 14-year-old bald girl, or when you’re an 8-year-old boy who can’t throw a baseball, fitting in can be even more challenging. Camp Ukandu provides a setting in which being bald or having missing limbs is completely unremarkable. We offer a community where patients relate to each other’s stories, to their fears, and to their pain. Most importantly, this community of children share their hopes and dreams and remind each other that life’s goals and inspiration are still theirs for the taking.
Of equal importance to our program is the community of siblings who attend camp. When siblings meet other siblings, they share their own unique fears and emotions that come with being the brother or sister of a ‘cancer kid’. Siblings can be confused by feelings of sadness, anger, or even jealousy of their sibling’s condition and how it impacts the family dynamic. Meeting other kids who have experienced these complicated emotions allows our sibling campers to reach a greater understanding of their unique circumstances and engage the world from a new perspective.
Camp Ukandu is a place where special children grow and play; where children laugh and cry; and where children build what are, quite literally, experiences and memories of a lifetime. Camp Ukandu is a place where kids can just be kids!