Support for children facing parents’ cancer

25 June 2019 | Community
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Camp Simba attendees enjoying a light-hearted moment with a student leader (Photo: Duke-NUS)

For the past 11 years, students from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine have jointly organised Camp Simba, a three-day programme to address the emotional needs of children whose family members have cancer or have passed away from cancer. Through games and activities such as laser tag and treasure hunts, the camp provides its beneficiaries with a safe and conducive environment to have fun. Camp Simba also aims to build their resilience and courage, and connect them with a community of children who share similar experiences from whom they can draw support and strength.

Being involved in Camp Simba has given me better insights on how having family members with cancer impacts children emotionally. This will hopefully make me a better person and doctor in the future.

Phyllis and Nicklaus Wang are two Camp Simba attendees. When their father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2014, the siblings — then 13 and 11 respectively — struggled to grasp the situation and to manage their emotions. Attending the camp proved to be so helpful that the siblings — now 18 and 16 — returned to the programme this year as mentors.

Phyllis recalled how the student organisers were supportive and attentive to their needs. “We wanted to impart the same support to the younger children at the camp this time,” she said. Sharing similar sentiments, Nicklaus shared, “Being part of the camp over the years has made me a more confident person. Taking time away from home to interact with other children kept our minds off our family’s woes.”

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Attendees participating in a group activity (Photo: Duke-NUS)

Camp Simba implemented the ‘Simba Siblings’ mentorship network for the first time this year in the spirit of promoting leadership and giving back to the community. The mentorship programme sees older beneficiaries receive training from a clinical psychologist on how to interact with younger participants to become effective and empathetic facilitators.

The programme is beneficial to both the participants and the student leaders. “Being involved in Camp Simba has given me better insights on how having family members with cancer impacts children emotionally. This will hopefully make me a better person and doctor in the future,” said Year 1 Duke-NUS Doctor of Medicine (MD) student Vanessa Chong, who led the camp this year.

This year’s Camp, which was held from 7 to 9 June, was attended by 69 children.