We tend to highlight the programmatic aspect of Camp—from dialogue to arts and sports. These are the areas that challenge campers and spark joy, that make them grow in ways they could never imagine.
But there are also the unsung heroes who keep Camp ticking (like the staff working in the Camp office), who keep our campers fed (Chef Mike and his crew), and our medical staff who tend to our Campers physical and emotional well-being. Meet two members of this vital team: Nurse Peggy and Doc Rob.
Peggy Akers is a nurse practitioner from Portland who has been at Camp for the past 10 years. Rob Boudewijn retired last year as an emergency department physician’s assistant, and this is his second summer at Camp.
Seeds of Peace: What do you see here that you think, perhaps, other camp medical staff don’t have to deal with?
Doc Rob: The problems that we see here, medically, are minor. We are always ready for emergencies. That’s what we are here for—those potentials. But, at least in my experience, a majority of them are cuts and bruises or aches and pains. And the majority of campers ask, ‘can I go back?’ Most of them want to get back out in the field and do whatever.
Nurse Peggy: I think it’s dialogue. I think that’s the part, where we see kids who are struggling with dialogue, and they will sometimes come in because it is hard. And they don’t know how to say, ‘I don’t want to go to dialogue.’ We do everything we can to get them to go back to dialogue. It has been so wonderful to have Ella here; it’s really changed things for all of us.
Seeds of Peace: Describe a little bit about who Ella is and her work.
NP: Ella is the social worker who is available to the entire camp. And she is here for us when we have a kid who is struggling. Because we cannot really leave here and go off into the woods and talk for a little bit.
So, Ella is here to really talk to the campers. We have to be pretty creative to figure that out. Because you do not want to discount their headaches; it’s real for some of them. Dialogue is the most important part. The kids do not tell me what they talk about in dialogue. Sometimes they will tell me about an exercise that they did and how hard that was. Some of them do not like dialogue at first. I am just really honest, saying how important it is, and that it is a safe space for them to say anything. And if they do not get that, then I do get Ella. She’s the in between for all of us.
Seeds of Peace: Many kids come into any camp medical infirmary with stomachaches or headaches. It could be what they ate, or dehydration. But you hear about how emotional trauma or stress takes on a physical form. And so that’s probably a real difference here as well.
NP: You know sometimes kids just need to come in here and chill. They just need to lay down in a quiet place, and they need space. Then they wake up and they say, ‘Oh, I feel so much better!’ They know we are checking on them every 15 minutes or so, and we are right here. I guess I feel motherly.
Seeds of Peace: One of the things that I think is fascinating, too, unlike most camps in Maine, especially in the international session, is that the campers are coming from really different backgrounds, cultures, and geographies. It’s different water, food, climate, bugs, and bacteria than they might be used to.
NP: Oh yeah, the bug bites. Some of the kids aren’t used to the bug bites. Each group is always embarrassed, but the biggest problem for this session, as it is every year, is the constipation. And I talk about it the first day. I say ‘there is magic stuff here, all you have to do is come in and ask for it.’ It’s Metamucil.
DR: I was talking to a young man the other day about using the bathrooms, and he said, “I can’t go there—everyone will hear me.” You have no privacy even though the doors are closed. You can hear everything, and for some people, that’s a big issue. Particularly for kids. You can imagine them saying, “I’m not going anywhere,” and then five days later, well …
NP: So they can come over to use our bathrooms any time, and they know that. And then we always have pads for the girls back here, in case they need anything. We try to make it so that it’s an easy, safe place for them. I hope they feel like they can come here for anything.
Seeds of Peace: Are there certain times of day or certain activities that when you look at the schedule you think, “Okay, let me get ready because I’m going to be busy in an hour?”
NP: Ga-Ga! Our philosophy is, we bring everything up there to the Ga-Ga pit. Big bags of ice and all the bandages. And nothing happens. If we sit here and wait for them to bring people, then they bring people. But if we’re right there, no one gets hurt. It’s true!
Seeds of Peace: We talk about Camp being transformational for those who come here. How do you see that play out in your space?
NP: We usually sit here and look out. We see the kids from the first days, where they’re just sort of walking along to dialogue, to where they’re suddenly arm-in-arm. It just happens, and it’s so beautiful to watch. Just laughing and skipping along. Every day just feels lighter for them.
DR: I think it’s important to stress that the main medical part here is the nurse. We’re both there, but I try to keep myself as much on the periphery as possible. I’d love to know more, but also, I think, they’ve got enough stuff going on, they don’t need me getting involved. They just need to know that I’ll be there for them if something happens. But when it comes to people like Peggy, they have much more knowledge of and camaraderie with the campers.
NP: You know, you’re out in the woods here! I mean, you’ve got emergency meds, but still. These are someone else’s kids. Our job is to protect them and keep them safe while they’re here. We take it really seriously.
Seeds of Peace: You started to tell me that the two of you have a really unique story about how you met … how your friendship began.
NP: We didn’t meet in Vietnam, but we met because of Vietnam. We lived in San Francisco; I was going to school there to become a nurse practitioner. I had heard about the Vet Center and I was kind of struggling. I had never told anyone I was even in Vietnam. (I was a nurse in the war.) I wanted to see if there were other nurses that had been there. In Vietnam you don’t go as a group. You get orders and you go. So, it is not like you go together and come back together like they did in World War II. So, I didn’t really know people that had been there. I went to the Vet Center and Rob was there, and we became friends. Then, somehow, we both ended up in Maine, and we have been friends forever.
DR: I worked at the Center for many years after Vietnam. I left Vietnam in 1969, I was a medic there. And at that time, we called it the post-Vietnam syndrome, which is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During that whole period of time until President Carter came along, the VA wouldn’t acknowledge it. Then, under President Carter, they established the Vet Center and we opened up the first center in San Francisco. I was one of the people that helped set it up, and Peggy was the first woman that we ever had. And at that time, our job was to try to reach out to Vietnam veterans, any vet, but particularly Vietnam veterans struggling with whatever issues: drug addiction, PTSD, a whole variety of things.
NP: One of the things that brought us together as friends, Rob’s been in the peace movement. He walked across the country with other veterans. He started a group called … I can’t remember the name of it anymore.
DR: Veterans for Draft Resistance.
NP: I got very involved in the peace movement in San Francisco.
DR: After Vietnam, she worked in Thailand in refugee camps.
NP: I first came up here to Camp and felt so much hope. Just seeing these kids. And sometimes you can get so discouraged when you are right in the middle of everything. You march for this, march for that, but nothing changes. But Camp for me was such a wonderful place to feel that hope for the world, for these kids. I don’t mean to be laying the heavy burden on them. But when I am here, there is a great possibility that there could be peace and a better climate. You just overhear their conversations and feel just ‘wow.’
DR: This is a story that is not told often enough. Because it is easy to just feel dismal and despair, and particularly when you come to our age. These kids are great. These kids are our future.
NP: They are such special kids really. Sadly, we do not get to know them as much as the counselors do. Because we really only get to know the ones that come in frequently or are not feeling well. Sometimes I will see a kid and think, ‘I have never seen them before and I wish that I had.’ But at the same time, I don’t want them to be here in the infirmary. The day the kids leave, you see the absolute love and compassion between the counselors and the kids. It’s so beautiful. And I just weep. To have those relationships; some of these kids don’t want to leave.
Seeds of Peace: Most are going back home to a reality that is very different than this. Even the campers who are walking back into the most privileged circumstances, they are still walking into a teenagerhood that is not as accepting as it is here.
NP: Absolutely, I see them being goofy and silly. We watched a baseball game yesterday, and the kids were dancing and cheering each other on even though they are on opposite teams and it was just so sweet. To see that these are kids who might not be so goofy in front of other kids at home. It was pretty wonderful.