For many years, the East African Women’s Foundation and community members have visited Philip Island. A place that holds fond memories of summer, salty granules of sand that show up in our clothing weeks later and essential camp activities like the giant swing and flying fox. When 2020 rolled around and stopped our lives in its tracks, we feared camp wouldn’t go ahead. Yet, like a rip in the current, 2020 threw yet another curve ball right at us. The COVID-19 situation in Melbourne stabilised and both tentatively and bravely we began organising our trip to the island of small penguins and Hemsworth brothers (pre-Byron Bay move).
It was a big task that lay ahead. Not only were we dealing with the changes COVID brought along, we were also taking our biggest group yet- 80 people! We needed to draw up programs, timetables, work schedules for volunteers and coordinate all of this with attendees. It was a true team effort. The planning was exhausting but the motivation was high. We were coming off the back of one of the hardest years in recent times; a global pandemic that had real world consequences. There was also navigating home schooling, hard lockdowns, ZOOM fatigue and no end in sight. If there ever was a time to deliver, it was now. And deliver we did.
The two-hour bus ride was exciting for the young children. It was a socially distanced journey, where some seats were cordoned off to comply with the new COVID-normal environment. As we drove past the rolling dry plains before San Remo, the trip was becoming all too real. Squeals of excitement and utterances of “I can see the ocean!” were aplenty.
On arrival, our volunteer youth leaders were given their lanyards and settled into their appointed roles. The youth leaders ranged from 13 years old to 25 years old. Some of the responsibilities included helping with food service during mealtimes and supervising activities with children under 12—although they will tell you they wore many hats.
The first day was spent swimming and relaxing by the pool. Children were able to lap up the sunshine and carry on yelling nonsensical sentences, like “cannonball boom, yeahh” before jumping in the chlorinated water. That evening we had a meeting to discuss the schedule (again, we did this a lot) for the next few days. For dinner we enjoyed a delightful butter chicken and rice, it was superb.
Day two, our first full day was jam packed with activities. The over 12’s did the giant flying fox, while the under 12’s did a low ropes course. After the initial mayhem about where everything was located, we got there in the end. The activities were set against the backdrop of a beautiful lake and a vibrant green and perfectly manicured lawn. The sun reflected on the water and lit up everything. It was a true escape from the suburban dwellings we had come from. The following day was similar in routine; fun activity, eat, swim, and repeat. Our greatest adventure was when the under 12’s and their parents walked to nearby Koala Conservation Reserve. There we walked through the bushland to spot koalas in their natural habitat. It was ‘I spy’ but the stakes were much higher as koalas amongst the large gum trees and foliage proved elusive. We managed to spot a few.
As camp was coming to a sad end, many people were not ready to go. Camp had provided a much-needed reprieve from the stress of 2020. EAWF had prepared a mental health session at the camp, where community members were invited to reflect on the hardships of the year. The session covered the importance of community, faith and hope. The comradery developed through things like strapping a child in harness to go on the flying fox, a mother enjoying a dip in the pool, an intense card game or a round of ping-pong brought the camp goers closer together. It was the first time many had seen each other in months and there were new faces. Newly arrived refugee and EAWF volunteer 23-year-old Sahra had never been to camp. Philip Island was a different experience for her entirely.
“The only camp I’d ever been to was a refugee camp. So, Philip Island was a funny experience for me as it was my first ‘real’ Australian camp. I had so much fun. I cannot wait to go to another one, Insh’Allah”.
Camp was a brilliant way to begin 2021. It was a much-needed rejuvenation. Although, one camp does not entirely erase the hardships many of us faced last year, it does add an optimistic spring to our step. To the new year and beyond!
We’d like to thank our generous sponsors, MCCA for contributing to this camp, the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet and all our lovely volunteers who work tirelessly to make events like this happen.