Puppets teach kids about cancer

Peggy Revell

A visit by the Camp Quality Puppet Program to local schools last week aimed to teach youths compassion and caring towards peers who are living with cancer.
“The message to the children is to be compassionate when a child that’s had cancer or any serious illness has come back to school and they’ve lost their hair or they’ve lost a limb,” explained Julie Ready, one of the “puppetmasters” who brought the show—featuring child-size puppets—to five local schools with fellow members of a Beta Sigma Phi chapter from Thunder Bay.
“It’s to teach the children kindness and respect towards that child.
“The basic message is that the children are still the same inside as they were before [although] their outside appearance may be different,” Ready added, noting the other important message they share is that these sorts of illnesses are not contagious.
The idea behind the educational program stems from Camp Quality—a week-long summer camp for children living with cancer that takes place every summer at Camp Duncan on East Loon Lake, just outside of Thunder Bay.
The camp is one of seven in Canada that offers children aged three-18, including those from Rainy River District, the opportunity to enjoy for swimming, boating, crafts, and field trips with other children who have experienced cancer.
While the camp is only a week long, it also includes a year-long program, including a reunion for participants in the winter months, a float in the Thunder Bay Christmas parade, and fundraisers.
Ready was one of the volunteers who worked at Camp Quality before becoming involved with the Camp Quality Puppet Program when it first started back in 2007.
They’ve crafted two performances with the puppets,—one for students in kindergarten-Grade 3 and another for those in Grades 4-6.
“We do the local schools—[St. Francis] is our 55th school—[and] we’ve done 12,000 kids approximately,” Ready estimated, noting they also performed at St. Michael’s, Crossroads, F.H. Huffman, and Robert Moore during their visit.
Overall, the reception by students to the play is “very good” and “very positive,” she added—because it’s not presented as a sad thing.
“While the children are coming in, we have music that we play and the puppets peeking over the top and looking over the side, and the kids are giggling and laughing by the time we start.
“And then the teachers have to settle them all down.
“It’s very rewarding for us to do this because of the reactions we get from the children and the questions that they ask,” Ready said.
For instance, at one of the performances, one of the students exclaimed he was bald just like one of the puppets because he had just had his summer hair cut.
Or the children asking if the puppets have underpants and what size of clothing they wear.
Or in one scene, the women trade hats—and one little boy piped up, “You shouldn’t do that because you might get lice!”
More information about Camp Quality can be found at www.campquality.com