4 September 2023

Happy camper's Country Hope journey comes full circle in show of thanks for help in tough time

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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two women and a man

One of Country Hope’s newest volunteers, Sophia Toole (left), with fundraising and events coordinator Simon Barton and returning volunteer Samantha Mundy. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Sophia Toole’s journey with Country Hope started when her brother was diagnosed with cancer.

Country Hope’s Time Out For Life holiday camp is returning after a three-year hiatus, this time with camp buddy and volunteer training. The camps allow country children diagnosed with cancer and other chronic or life-threatening illnesses to enjoy time away from treatment.

Sophia started as a camper and has now joined Country Hope to become a buddy. The buddy goes on camp to be with a child camper to ensure they have a great trip, stay safe, and be a friend to the youngster.

For the then-five-year-old Sophia, the camps were among the best weeks of her life.

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“We got to be kids and not worry about what was going on at home,” Sophia said.

“Now I’m coming back as a carer for the campers and giving back to Country Hope.

“Country Hope supported my family in more ways than we could ever imagine.”

She said her family was referred to Country Hope, which relieved her parents of an enormous amount of stress and helped pay for medical treatment and accommodation.

Sophia attended six to seven camps as a child and is now looking forward to going again as a buddy.

woman and girl

Young Sophia as a camper with her buddy in 2007. Photo: Supplied.

“It is worth giving up the time to volunteer and try to reach out to the families who are struggling,” she said.

For the past 20 years, Country Hope has supported families with children diagnosed with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses in the Riverina.

Fundraising and events coordinator Simon Barton said this year’s training camp involved new buddies and volunteers and returning ones.

“We usually have one buddy per camper and we’re still looking to get more buddies,” Simon said.

“If people are interested in being a volunteer, they can still apply. We run supplementary training sessions before the camp and we’ve still got time.”

Simon said the families and children attached to Country Hope looked forward to the camp every year.

woman carrying girl

Returning Country Hope volunteer Samantha Mundy as a buddy with her camper at the 2012 holiday. Photo: Supplied.

“It’s an amazing experience for the kids because they get a holiday week where they get to do a whole bunch of things they wouldn’t normally do,” he said.

“It’s important for the rest of the family … it gives rest opportunity for the parents.”

Returning volunteer Samantha Mundy was living with friends who were part of Country Hope during her university days and decided to give volunteering a try.

Samantha was in her second year of a teaching degree in 2010 when she joined the organisation and is still contributing.

She said her experiences as a volunteer had exceeded her expectations.

“It’s a family of like-minded people who want the same outcome for the kids,” she said.

“We want the kids to have fun, be able to do what they want to do while away and find like-minded kids as well for themselves.”

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For Samantha, the best part of being a buddy is supporting each other.

“We are there for the kids and they are the most important part of the whole week [of camp],” she said.

“It’s for them and their families to have that break and rejuvenating time.

“Often, the kids are there on the last day counting down until the next camp.”

The camp will have several doctors and a full medical team to support the children who require active treatment.

Sophia, Simon and Samantha collectively encouraged those interested in volunteering and looking to make a difference to join Country Hope, which is celebrating its 20th year with a ball.

Head to the Country Hope website to learn more about becoming a volunteer.

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