PAT + PAM'S STORY
Within a few years of creating Camp Quality, Vera could see how important it was to do something to help children on their return to school. She could see that kids who were showing the physical signs of cancer treatment were treated differently because of it. In 1988, puppets were chosen as the best way to communicate cancer education in an age-appropriate way and just like that puppeteer training commenced.
Puppeteers Pat and Pam were both there from day one. The first school performance was held on March 6th 1989, and Pam can still recall the overwhelmingly positive feedback they received:
"The response was amazing and the beginning of a journey where we introduced the puppets – Kylie, a girl who has lost her hair from cancer treatment, and Melissa and Dean, her supportive school friends. Almost overnight, two teams were needed in Sydney to meet the demand for shows."
In the early days, puppeteers were volunteers, but eventually Pam became the first official puppeteer employee, hired as National Manager of the Primary School Education Program. As the benefits of the program were quickly realised, teams were mobilised in Melbourne, Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide and Perth.
Each of these puppet teams performed the show at local schools and hospitals. Pat and Pam did most of the major tours including two to three weeks at a time travelling to all the states and territories, and to remote outback areas. During their 15 years of work, the puppets have delivered crucial education to over two million children.
Today, Camp Quality is proud to have reached well over five million children with the same program these two women helped build.
Pat is a proud believer in the importance of education to help heal and support, and on many occasions saw the direct impact of the show's message:
"I remember one McHappy Day a dad approached me, pointed to puppet Kylie and asked 'what’s wrong with her?' His daughter promptly informed him, 'She had leukaemia, Dad, and the medicine made her hair fall out'. A message well learned and understood!"
Pat and Pam hung up their puppeteering hats in 2003, but their legacies live on. Both were instrumental in the development and expansion of the program as it stands today. And to help us celebrate our 35th birthday, they shared some of their most precious memories:
"I remember during a tour in 1996 at a hospital, there was a young lad who had refused to accept that he had cancer. His mum convinced him to come and watch the show. Afterwards, his mother came back to us in tears to thank us. He had said to his mum 'I guess if it was OK with Kylie, then it’s OK with me to have cancer too. My friends will still like me.' We joined with the mum in tears of joy because we’d had the privilege of making a difference."
"The show reminds children how to treat one another with kindness and understanding, even when members of their family are undergoing cancer treatment. I remember one little girl, sitting in the front row of a performance, who at the end revealed her mother had cancer. She bowed her head, sobbed and her little friend put her arm around her shoulder. Kylie was able to kneel down next to her and give her a tissue."