Canberra Grammar School student Jackson Friend with Joel Norris from Cranleigh School. Photo: Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Being the full-time carer of a child with special needs may seem an unusual way to start off summer holidays, but that's exactly what 20 Canberra Grammar and Canberra Girls Grammar students have done over the past three days.
It's the third year Canberra Grammar has hosted a Sony Foundation Children's Holiday Camp, which aims to give children with special needs a memorable experience, while giving their regular carers a break. They also offer a unique experience for their temporary teen carers, or companions as they're called.
Jackson Friend was one of the 20 year 11 students selected from the two schools to be a companion on the Canberra camp, a number whittled down from about 80 applicants.
''I thought it would be a great thing to do to give up your own time to help out somebody who doesn't get [the same chances],'' he said.
Jackson was paired with eight-year-old Joel Norris, a Cranleigh School student; they shared a room in the boarding house and spent every hour together over the three-day camp that included a trip to the zoo, swimming, a mini fete and a visit from Santa.
''Joel never gets a chance to do all this, his mum said in his application he's never been on any other camps in his life, this is the only sort of camp he can go on and be comfortable with,'' Jackson said.
''It really opens up your eyes to how lucky we are.
''I'm knackered after just three days. It's really, really draining, but it's great at the same time, the benefits much outweigh the tiredness - there isn't one kid here who hasn't had a great time.''
The camp hosted 18 children from the local region, with some of the higher-needs kids being assigned two companions for the camp.
The chairman of the camp's organising committee, Graeme Lendrum, said they have had no trouble finding teens willing to volunteer their time either.
''It's a chance in a lifetime to look after another human being 24/7 for three days - they learn about themselves, and they put themselves in the shoes of the parents - it's a real learning experience for them,'' he said. ''They just want to help and it's a great way to help.''