Volunteering can be fun, and volunteer tourism can be even more fun! Barretstown is a castle and charity based in County Kildare, Ireland. Its mission is to rebuild the lives of children and families affected by serious illness. I first heard about Barretstown in 2010 because my employer at the time, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was one of the main sponsors. In fact, GSK would give us two days off and pay for flights for employees who were volunteering at Barretstown. Although I was based in London, I flew over to Dublin and then took the shuttle bus to the countryside. It was always worth the trip! The volunteer work was wonderful and meaningful, and it is a bonus to spend some time in beautiful, green Ireland.
First of all, Barretstown is truly a magical place for the campers. There is an actual castle surrounded by beautiful grounds. It is a safe environment for kids and their families to have fun. Sometimes, it is the first time a parent has let their child out of sight since the child became ill. In just a few days, children and parents transform before our eyes. I feel like we have the privilege of helping them to start on the journey of rebuilding their confidence and their lives through fun activities. There are a lot of emotions but at the end of the weekend, we can usually see some weight lifted off their shoulders.
Secondly, Barretstown is a special place for all of the volunteers. Some of the staff are paid and work for the whole season. However, many of us are caras (friends) only for a few days at a weekend camp. We get to spend time with the families and other volunteers. At times, it can be sad and challenging, especially at the bereavement camps. On the other hand, I have never done work as rewarding as volunteering at Barretstown. It is an amazing feeling to give your time and energy to something so meaningful, then to observe the positive impact it has on other people. We also learn to be very silly and embarrass ourselves for the benefit of others!
In times when I was unable to travel physically, I have done other activities to benefit Barretstown. For example, I have raised funds by running a half-marathon. And I have also done a costume collection event at work, which I then sent over to Ireland. Dressing up and theatrical performance are important activities at camp. Other activities include archery, arts and crafts, horse riding, fishing, cooking, climbing, ropes courses, and finding fairies in the garden. I am smiling now just thinking about the memories.
In 2017, I received recognition for my 5th year of volunteering at Barretstown. I volunteered again in 2019, then had to skip a couple of years due to the pandemic. I hope to go again soon!