Guests at a UK charity dinner heard a very personal plea from a Gibraltarian mum Sari Chocron-Attias to support the charity Camp Simcha which got her family through the toughest year of their lives.
Mrs Chocron-Attias and her son Samueli received support from Camp Simcha – a UK charity which helps families coping with serious childhood illness, after her son was diagnosed with cancer in August 2015.
Her story and that of other family, who have been supported by the charity, resulted in £190,000 being raised on the night.
Samueli, aged just five when diagnosed was referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital for the treatment of Stage 4 Burkitt’s Lymphoma. It was then that Camp Simcha helped family both through practical and emotional support.
“I had to leave my four other children aged two to 16 in Gibraltar with my sister and brothers and we were now being told that we had to stay in London in hospital for six months to receive treatment. It was a few days later that I received a phone call from Camp Simcha. They arranged to come and visit us and from then on they were with us every step of the way,” explained Mrs Chocron-Attias.
“I so looked forward to my Family Liaison Officer Natalie’s regular calls and visits. She was the only person that I could be completely honest and truthful with about my feelings and worries. I had to be strong for everyone else but here was someone taking my weight and holding me up,” she said.
It was Natalie who arranged for a Camp Simcha volunteer, Jessica, to visit Samueli.
“She brought a smile to his face every time she came in to see him. Some weeks he was too ill to even raise his head, but she would still come and just sit with him. The charity also arranged for the most wonderful tutor, Shirelle, to come to the hospital to help him keep up with his school work.”
She further explains that one of the most special events Camp Simcha runs is a Family Retreat.
“This is a unique programme run in a hotel over three days with other Camp Simcha families. They provide all the medical support for your sick child, so that the parents can get much needed rest and relaxation. The days are filled with amazing activities and entertainment for all the children – go-carting, private zoos, sports car and helicopter rides. Every child and parent seems to leave there with a renewed strength to cope with whatever they are facing,” she says.
“All my family came to it and seeing them having fun, watching them dancing, singing, and feeling included, when they had been left out for the whole year, was amazing. My family and I feel incredibly grateful and lucky to have attended this amazing event; it was such a therapeutic and supportive experience for all of us.”
After Samueli was discharged the family was told they still could not return home and had to stay in the local area.
They stayed with friends and Camp Simcha sent an art teacher to help Samueli with arts and crafts. His Camp Simcha volunteer Jessica would also take him out once a week to bowling or pottery painting. They also arranged volunteers to do schoolwork with him and they even provided transport to the hospital whenever it was needed.
“Camp Simcha try to make normal out of the abnormal, because when your child is in hospital and so sick, you feel like your life can’t go on. They walk with every family like us through the unknown, they shoulder some of the emotional burden, help you feel a bit more human, help you care for your other children and give you back some control in your life. They bring joy and hope to your sick child. It is a truly special organisation, without which I don’t know how I would have gotten through Samueli’s illness,” continued Mrs Chocron-Attias.
Camp Simcha Chief executive Neville Goldschneider said the charity existed quite literally to help families with seriously ill children put their world back together again and to reassure them that their children can still be happy.
“That as a family, they still have things too look forward to and to hope for. I could tell you all about the 24 different services we offer, from the Family Liaison Officers to the volunteers who support children and their siblings to retreats and art, drama and music therapy, but as parents will tell you, the thing that makes such a big difference is the fact that we will do whatever it takes to help a family cope, for as long as it takes.”