Chasing Dreams at Suntown Camp

By: Carla Gomez

Twenty-five campers with life threatening illnesses aged 9 to 17 years old, dressed as native American Indians, forgot their pain as they danced and feasted around a campfire at the 8th annual Suntown Camp pow wow at the CICM Maryshore grounds in Talisay City, Negros Occidental lastnight which commenced on October 25.

Dr. Alvin Parreno, CISV Bacolod Chapter President and Suntown vice president, said the children at the camp have cancer, juvenile diabetes, and kidney problems, and some of them are very fragile.
“For four days, we provide the children with an opportunity to interact with other childrein of similar pain so that, while they see that they are not alone in their troubles, they also develop a bond that will help sustain them through-out their troubled future,” Suntown president Millie Kilayko said.
“Chasing Dreams” is the theme of this year’s camp which is aimed to inspire both campers and volunteers to dream and among the highlights of the camp was the making of dream catchers, a Native American tradition according to Marx De La Rosa, Suntown executive director.
The dream catcher is intended to protect the sleeping individual from negative dreams, while letting positive dreams through. The positive dreams slip through the hole at the center of the dream catcher and glide down the feathers to the sleeping person below. The negative dreams get caught up in the web, and expire when the first rays of the sun strike them, according to the legend.
The exercise was geared towards helping the children think positive and to never give up on chasing big dreams, Kilayko said.

Joining them were 17 camp leaders of CISV, including some who came from CISV Japan, and 23 adult volunteers, who during the pow wow were also dressed as cowboys and Indians.
Ana Pison, camp director, said that aside from making dream catchers and pow wow, participants did a lot of other fun activities that included a cookfest and zumba.
She said being part of the camp has been very fulfilling because they learn a lot from the children who despite their being very sick, can still be strong and not complain.
Rienzi Encarnacion, a camp leader for two years now, said Suntown changes lives not only of the children campers but of all those who are part of it.
This was echoed by banker Edward Manganti, a camp volunteer, who said it is not a one-way learning experience. While they help the campers cope with their illnesses and have fun, Manganti said the camp leaders and volunteers gain more from being with the children and learning from them.
“We not only learn from the children, being at the camp makes one realize that while there are bad people in this world, there are still a lot of good people, too.” Camp leader Remus Pediengco said.
Also among the camp leaders was Janica Bantigue, a cancer survivor, who first joined Suntown as a camper when she was 12.
Bantigue, now 19 and a medtech student at Riverside College in Bacolod City, said the children enjoyed making their dream catchers as they encouraged them to dream big.
Even some of the previous campers who barely spoke at previous camps have become more responsive and willing to talk about themselves, she said.
For the children with life-threatening illnesses there is hope in chasing big dreams.*

(this article was first published on The Visayan Daily Star on October 29, 2014)