Knowing You’re Not Alone

December 19, 2014

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Interchange Outer East’s Sibling Program has gone from strength to strength. Its popularity has grown this year, mainly through word of mouth, to the extent that all camps and activities were fully booked from the early part of the year.

This year the sibling program has run two series of Saturday Sibs sessions for 5 – 8 year olds, three full day activities for the 9 – 12 year old group, two camps for teenage siblings and two camps for siblings of all ages. The Saturday Sibs, uses IOE’s training room to run fun, themed activities which include games which subtly explore what it is like to be a young sibling of a child with a disability. For the 9 – 12 year olds it’s about getting out into the community, making friends and feeling like you are not alone in your situation. For the teenage group, camps are a chance to hang out with other siblings, many of whom have already become friends, doing all those things teenagers love to do. The two All Ages camps for 2014 have been very successful with each camp taking around 30 siblings of various ages, to Shoreham and Phillip Island respectively.

Interchange’s Sibs program receives no government funding. It has only been able to continue due to generous funding from Freemasons Victoria and Freemasons Monash Gully branch, who have contributed a total of 100,000 over the past 5 years. Words cannot adequately express how important this funding has been to the many siblings who have reaped such huge benefits from the Sibling Support program. As an expression of gratitude, IOE regularly holds Thank You morning teas for Freemasons, where members are kept in touch with latest program developments and hear personal stories from siblings themselves.

Laura West, who runs many of the camps and activities for siblings summed up what the Sibs Program is all about in her latest camp report.

“During the most recent All Ages Sibling Camp, held in early December, it rained for most of the weekend so most activities were indoors. As Christmas was coming up, we decided to make Christmas cards, including some cards to thank the ladies and gentlemen of the Freemasons, who are such fantastic supporters of our Sibs program.

While sitting around the table with two girls who were attending their first ever siblings camp, I asked what they liked best about the camp. They replied, “The beach, the pool and the trampoline”. I asked why they thought they had come to camp. The answer was “to have fun”. I told them they were absolutely correct and then asked if they knew what every person on camp had in common. They looked at each other, looked at me and then tilted their heads to the side – they had no idea, A seasoned Sibs Program veteran, sitting across the table raised her voice and informed them “It’s because you have a brother with a disability”. They looked at her, a little shocked by her abruptness, but mostly surprised that she knew this about them. She then continued, “We all do! I have a brother with a disability, those two over there have a sister with a disability and she…” Pointing to the final girl at the table with us and pausing, realising she wasn’t sure. She responded quickly to the point and pause “I have both, a brother and a sister”. The two girls smiled and thought about it for a little while. They looked at me again, I nodded to confirm that this was in fact true. “Wow, really?” I nodded again. “Every one of these kids?” they asked. I nodded again.

Later that night, one of the two girls came up to me, she was still very unsure about this whole Sibs thing. “What about you three?” She was referring to the three staff. I explained that one of us was a sibling, one had foster siblings with disabilities and one had brothers and sisters, but they didn’t have a disability. She smiled and walked off.

It is moments like these that make me realise that we can plan activities and we can ensure that the children are informed about disability and the effects it may have on therm. But the best part about sibling program and sibling camps is giving children a chance to know that they are not alone. There are others who know what it is like, there are others who are the same as them, whose lives have similar issues. Sibling camps give them the opportunity to just spend time together.

Being with other siblings who understand you is what is important – it’s more than we, as adults, can provide on our own to these young people.”

With funding pledged for the remainder of this financial year, planning for the 2015 Sibling program is already well under way. For more information about Sibs 2015 contact the Coordinator Jenna Tatterson on 9758 5522 or email jenna.tatterson.  Read other website stories Freemasons Increase Support   and Invaluable Support For Siblings

by Sandra Leehy



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