“My teacher told me about the camp and about how we would learn new and beautiful things," says Helmiyya Al Masri, a past Camp Rafiqi participant. "I came here and I found out that what she said was true. We learned things we didn’t know before. I learned to walk using the cane without anyone’s help, and I made friends with both the students and the teachers.”
Helmiyya is just one of ETI’s successful past Camp Rafiqi participants. As referenced in the quote above, our program participants learn many important life skills—including learning to use a white cane, as well as meal preparation, money management, and social skills—but what happens after learning them?
In the real world, people with visual impairment will need to adeptly, and confidently, operate alongside sighted people. Many people think that they can’t, or shouldn’t be given the chance to do so. However, we believe that all have the potential to do so, and with the right practice, people with visual impairment can thrive. This is why ETI has designed an integrated camp to follow the Life Skill Program. But how are we able to achieve this?
Inclusion is the core idea of everything ETI does, so when designing the curriculum, team members created two courses that instill this value in camp participants: identity and cogenerate dialogue. In cogenerate dialogue, teachers and students collaborate to identify and implement positive changes in a classroom's teaching and learning practices. The identity curriculum, on the other hand, seeks to cultivate independent thoughts of how we see ourselves within a community through a dialogue between peers, the creative process, literacy, and reflection.
Understanding one’s story, and the idea that one belongs, is essential to full integration in society, especially for kids who have not always been included. For example, one of Camp Rafiqi’s current participants created a sculpture in art class, meant to represent herself using found objects, shown in the picture below.
The focus on identity and inclusion pervades every other class throughout the program, and these classes are designed to empower the kids to believe in their own self-worth. “Through all stages of development we look for purpose and sense of belonging,” says Ross. “The identity curriculum encourages students to develop an understanding of purpose, place, and value, and it was guided by the question of belonging and our story.”
“In the science class, we made each student put the blindfold on his or her eyes, visual impaired or not, and we did this for two reasons,” says a volunteer. “The first is to let the sighted students know that even blind people are able to do what sighted people can do and that they have the same abilities, even if they are blind. The second reason is to ensure that blind people don’t feel that they are different from sighted students. The first day with the blindfold was hard for the sighted students. But day after day they realized that they are able to use their other senses to do what they want, and this made them know that blind people have capabilities using their other senses as well.”
Fostering individual creativity among the students is another way ETI seeks to instill a sense of empowerment in our participants. Creativity is encouraged in all classes that participants take, and this includes STEM classes.
“Today was ‘Science of Sound Day,’ and the kids made stethoscopes out of tubes and funnels, and record players out of paper and needles,” says Tim Mauro, ETI’s IT Manager, who is currently volunteering at Camp Rafiqi. “All went well, but my favorite part was watching the kids use the stuff in ways other than we planned for! One student found that the stethoscope in reverse makes a great microphone, and regaled us with an amplified rendition of E-I-E-I-O. Another found it useful in determining who is hungry. If you hear the stomach growl, they are hungry. Hilarious.”
Anecdotes like these illustrate how Camp Rafiqi’s classes help the kids develop their creativity and instill in them the confidence that they bring value to society. Another example of a curriculum designed in this way is the art curriculum. Seeking to cultivate purpose, expression, and studio habits of the mind, Camp Rafiqi's art curriculum encourages technique and reflection, and children explore the process of making by using tactile, auditory, and olfactory sensitivities—which help students learn to not rely on sight alone. In the video below, a camp participant interprets the artwork of his peer to his teacher using the sense of touch (the dialogue of the video is in Arabic).
The goal of fostering expression among the participants is also found in Camp Rafiqi's music classes. The music curriculum explores the fundamentals of music, which includes lessons in rhythm, percussion and found objects, and world music. An example lesson from the music curriculum is the Forbidden Rhythm Game, where students learn to distinguish between rhythmic sequences using a call and response method. Teachers demonstrate a unique rhythmic pattern that is “forbidden,” and the students must listen actively for it when it is hidden in a call and response activity. In this class, students improve their listening, rhythmic, and singing skills—all while learning to adapt to a set of rules.
“The stethoscope and record player were supposed to be separate projects, but one student decided to put their stethoscope up to the record player to magnify the sound,” says Tim. “That became the hit of the session, as everyone then put their stethoscope up for a better listen. Bottom line—I have a degree in engineering, and these kids thought up ways to use this stuff that hadn't even occurred to me.”
Despite all the learning and innovation happening within each individual class, the primary goal of participation in Camp Rafiqi is to just be a child and have fun. Many of the children with visual impairment have been shunned in the past from the normal activities of childhood, and this includes school and camp. By playing alongside other children, they receive the message that they deserve the same opportunities as any other kid, and that they belong.
Teaching teamwork is just one of the many ways ETI instills the idea of belonging in its participants. One of the ways Camp Rafiqi participants learn team work is through our soccer curriculum. The soccer curriculum introduces and develops soccer skills—including dribbling, passing, shooting, and running—while teaching participants how to work on a team and to bring out the potential of their peers.
The focus on team work is not just found during soccer instruction, however. “We assure that students work in groups in order to improve the ability of group work, which they will have to use the rest of their lives, and every day we change the groups so they get used to integrating into society,” says a volunteer.
Besides revolutionizing the mindset of the kids with visual impairment, ETI’s goal is to show the rest of the community that people with disabilities have just as much to contribute to society as people without. “While the impact of ETI’s programmatic activities is evident among campers and their parents, it is important to note the impact that ETI programs have had among students, faculty, and staff at the American University of Beirut and the University of Balamand, where the camps are held,” says Anna Barbosa, ETI’s Director of Empowerment Programs. “For example, AUB students walking on campus have noticed an increase in the population of visually impaired children and youth on campus during the Life Skill Program and Camp Rafiqi and, more than once, they have asked our staff and volunteers about our programs. They were also impressed and surprised to learn about the resources available for visually impaired youth. This represents another way that our programs impact the community and promote awareness regarding our mission and vision.”
After only one week, the impact that Camp Rafiqi has accomplished is extraordinary, and everyone involved feels excitment for what next week will bring.