When we created Camp Rafiqi, it was important that we include both blind and sighted campers. Our primary commitment is to blind individuals, but we felt like we wouldn’t be working toward the “Integration” in “Empowerment through Integration” by separating blind campers from the larger, sighted society. By mixing the campers together, we hoped that we would not only raise the self-esteem of the blind, but we also hoped to give sighted children the chance to interact with blind kids as peers. In one respect, the camps have been a great success! Almost all the campers—without any provocation—have told us that this camp has helped them see their society differently. For example:
I love this so much you can’t even imagine. I’m so happy. I’ve been to a lot of camps—one I went for 15 days. This is the only when where I’ve been happy.
I love everything. In the other camps, the activities weren’t as exciting, and I didn’t feel like I was treated like everyone else.
Here is another glowing review:
I like meeting a lot of people, I like the concept, and more than that, I like meeting people who are more open to the world. I like the microcosm that was built here—I don’t mind meeting blind people here, but outside it’s different. There, if I meet other blind people, it’s not the same, I wouldn’t fit in with everyone else.
Consistently, blind campers talk about Camp Rafiqi as if it’s a “safe haven” away from the cruelty of everyday life. It gives them hope for their individual lives and a sense that an integrated and harmonious social life is possible. It is fulfilling to provide a sense of “normalcy” to kids who are constantly humiliated and told that they cannot amount to anything.
However, our model has also raised new questions because of the ways that we have fallen short. While we concentrate our efforts on the blind campers, we worry that we might treat our sighted campers unfairly. We want to provide blind children in Lebanon with the support they lack, but it’s unethical to treat the sighted kids as if they were the “others”—a nameless mass of children there solely for the sake of the blind campers. My language here is a little too strong, but I hope it illustrates an underlying danger in our efforts to do blind advocacy and create a blind curricula. It makes some of us wonder if our approach is a little skewed. Perhaps we should think less about “integrating the blind” and more about creating social cohesion through equal efforts from “both sides” of society.
Finally, how do we find activities that will interest both the blind kids and the sighted kids equally? In the second week of camp, we were able to treat the kids to a field trip to the Jeitta Grotto. Throughout the week, anticipation grew as we taught the kids about caves in science class, made cave paintings, and grew our own stalagmites. The caverns and lakes of the grotto were stunning, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much the blind kids could enjoy the experience. The blind children were allowed to touch some of the rock formations, but the environment was far too visual, I thought. The sighted kids, of course, raved about the trip, but I wonder how the blind kids process their experience. Was it fun for them to participate, even though they couldn’t see what the other kids described to them? Do they secretly feel left out?
We will be exploring these questions at an organizational level with the input of our campers and counselors. If you would like to weigh in on these issues, we would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact us at any time.