Davis Clark and Matthew Carlson
The voices of young people singing Party in the USA echoed through the halls of St Catherine’s College in Armagh City last week, marking the final week of the Michaela Foundation hosting their annual summer camps.
The charity was set up in memory of Michaela McAreavey who was murdered while on her honeymoon in Mauritius in 2011.
Beginning in 2012, the foundation has held camps every summer in order to teach young girls the characteristics of Michaela and her values, such as being kind, joyful and faithful and to keeping the spirit of Michaela alive.
The summer camps began in 2012 with the first camp being hosted in Tyrone. Now, the camp has grown to having 17 camps this year spanning over four weeks.
The camp in Armagh ran from July 23-27 beginning with the whole camp bonding with song and dance and Friday closing with Mass and a tea party. Each day, the Campettes went to different activities representing different aspects that Michaela devoted herself to: Faith, well-being, fun, fashion and the Irish language. Campettes are encouraged to live in these aspects in accordance to the Michaela Foundation motto – to “live without limits”.
Colleen Gribbin and Caroline Smyth ran the event along with lots of other volunteers, several of whom went through the camp themselves when it first started. Colleen and Caroline agree that volunteering at the camp is having an impact on the Campettes and has been great fun and a great honour.
According to Caroline, she started volunteering as a way to improve her work experience, but it became something much more. “I decided ‘Oh it will look good on my CV’, this will be great teaching, I’ll get a job. And it just became so much more than that,” said Caroline. “Now I have a job so I don’t need to be here, but I still am.”
Colleen added that although the Campettes do get a lot out of the camp, the leaders also have a chance to develop their Faith and come together in fellowship. “We also grow too as volunteers and you meet so many people along the way as well. It really has changed my life, the people that you meet become your friends because you meet like-minded people,” said Colleen.
Because the camps have been around for several years, girls who once participated in the camp are now volunteers, helping girls grow in Faith, just like someone once did for them. Megan and Clodagh both attended a Michaela summer camp and have now completed their second year as volunteers. Looking back, they agreed that their positive experience as Campettes instilled a desire to volunteer. “We definitely had a really good time as Campettes and it’s a great thing to say that you’ve done, but it’s definitely a lot because we had such a good time at the camp ourselves,” said Clodagh.
They also agreed that the camps had a great impact on their Faith at such a young age. “When you’re like 12 or 13 you don’t really understand, but when you go to the camp you connect with your Faith more,” said Megan. “Before the camp I didn’t really want to go to Mass and then after, I connected with it more.”
Even though this year’s summer camps are finished, the Michaela Foundation continues to be active throughout the year pouring into young girls and teaching them how to truly live without limits.