My official title as a Mitchell Scholar will be expiring shortly, and with it all those wonderful perks that I have so enjoyed. Yet, as my degree at Trinity will take two years to complete rather than the normal one, this supposed “last Mitchell journal” comes at a time when I am merely warming up for the rest of my stay.
Over the last eight months I have been active in my research (I just returned from investigating my first 14th century castle), traveled throughout Ireland and parts of Europe, and joined as many groups on campus that I could find. Yet I found that there was a void in my existence here. I was missing the hands on volunteering work that was a significant part of my life back in the States. Thanks to a great dinner conversation with Trina, I have since signed up for what has quickly become my favorite distraction from my studies.
In 1994, Paul Newman bought an old castle on an estate about 45 minutes west of Dublin. He turned it into a summer retreat for children who are seriously ill with cancer, now called Barretstown Gang Camp. Barretstown brings in children who otherwise would not be able to go to camp for a week of horse riding, climbing ropes courses, fishing, and other activities of “serious fun.” By signing up to volunteer as a “Cara” the Irish word for friend, I have embraced my job of running around making camp as fun and enjoyable for the children as possible.
The goal of Barretstown is to push these children to successes beyond whatever they thought was possible for themselves, all the while having as many laughs as possible. The most valuable gift I receive at Barretstown is seeing the children emerge from camp with a newly found self confidence that for the first time allows them not to be defined solely by their illness. It is a special transformation to watch.
My time at Barretstown has been a huge success and I anxiously await my return. As it turns out, Barretstown encourages Cara’s to dress up as women in a purple wigs, initiate water fights that soak the children just before bedtime, and pretend to be off balance in canoes before falling into the lake. I reckon this job could be a keeper.
In addition to Barretstown, the rest of my summer should keep me busy. Having been coaxed into believing that I am in fact a trustworthy tour guide, several of the Mitchell’s, including Trina, will be putting their lives in my hands as they follow me for a 10 day bicycling tour along the west coast of Ireland. I just hope we reach our final destination with at least our dignity in tact, if not our bikes as well. After this Tour de Ireland, I anxiously look forward to traveling to Thailand for three weeks. My friend Sven and I will use our underused back muscles to help rebuild a village that has been ravaged by the tsunami disaster.
In this last Mitchell journal, let me say that this experience of living and studying in Ireland has been the opportunity that I will forever wish I could relive. The people that make this program possible, whether visible or behind the scenes, have given me a special gift of which I will always be indebted.