Over the second weekend of May, 50 guests, carers and volunteers came together in Western Sydney for a three-day Order of Malta Camp for Disabled Youth at the Benedict XVI Retreat Centre.
The Order of Malta in Europe and the Americas have been hosting youth camps for over 30 years with the aim of bringing together young people with disabilities, volunteers and carers for a once in a lifetime experience of fun, friendship and adventure. However only in recent years has this tradition reached the Asia Pacific region with the first Australian camp hosted on the Gold Coast in September 2021.
“The camp aims to break down barriers, forge a sense of community and provide our volunteers with an opportunity to serve” explained Order of Malta member Neville Zammit. “The programs are designed to challenge our disabled guests, physically, emotionally and intellectually, in a safe, supportive and fun environment. Importantly, our youth volunteers play key roles in planning and running the camps, as it is the participants’ interactions and the friendships forged along the way that make the Order of Malta camps so special”.
Activities at the Sydney camp included bubble soccer, an iFly and aqua golf experience at Penrith Panthers, as well as daily Masses with our Spiritual Director Fr James McCarthy and social activities, including the popular camp disco.
Camp guest Chris commented, “This [camp] really exceeded my expectations. I was thinking it would be a basic youth camp, but no. I was given everything and more. Especially with all the wonderful people I have met. It makes me sad that I have to go [home].”
Whilst the camps are primarily focused on disabled guests, they provide an equally valuable experience for those who volunteer. Order of Malta member and camp leader Dalton Fogarty explains; “Being here with the guests and seeing how they interact with everyone has been inspirational. Seeing genuine happiness and warmth from them and being part of that has been amazing. For me, the camps express what the charism of the Order of Malta is about.”
Plans are underway for another camp to be held in Victoria later this year with spots already in demand.
“We have established great links with care agencies across the country who want their clients to attend future camps, in addition to guests keen to return,” said Neville. “However, as the camps are funded entirely by donations, our main challenge is to secure funding so that we can continue to host these camps that offer so much to everyone involved.”
Donations to support the Order of Malta Camps for Disabled Youth are tax-deductible and can be made online at www.orderofmalta.org.au or by sending a cheque payable to ‘The Order of Malta’ to ‘Disabled Youth Camps, The Order of Malta PO Box 79, Caringbah, NSW 1495.