Okay, so ETI’s participants with visual impairment learn new skills, gain confidence, and feel hope for the first time during the month they participate in the Life Skill Program and Camp Rafiqi. Where do they go next? ETI has designed a community service-based program model that allows for its participants to demonstrate their value to society.
The Social Project Program exists to do just that. A three-to-six-month program that builds on the philosophy created in the Life Skills Program and at Camp Rafiqi, both blind and sighted youth carry out community service projects through collaborations with local organizations. This is monumental because, for many children with visual impairment, their participation serves as their first time going out in society without being helped by family members or guardians. This experience also serves as their first time on the giving instead of the receiving end. Witnessing these children performing acts of community service allows fellow citizens to realize that they are like anyone else, and are not a charity to be pitied and patronized. This helps to break the stigma of disability for both groups.
Cerine, a past participant in our Social Project Program, informed us that she never thought she’d be able to help other people herself. Other people would often help her, even though she was fully capable of living independently. Completing a simple recycling project with kids her own age made her realize that she had the power to do anything she wanted.
Past Social Project Program facilitators have reported that the involvement has changed not only the youth with visual impairment, but also the sighted participants. They have noted that the sighted participants began to accept the visually impaired kids as part of the group, learning to regularly ask for their opinions and to engage in conversation with them about their personal lives. This may seem like a regular occurrence among peers, but it is revolutionary and critical for those with and without disability in a setting where the two groups have traditionally been segregated.
So, Have the Seeds of Confidence Been Planted?
“Yes, definitely, there have been interactions,” says Rania, Camp Rafiqi’s Art Director, on social and intellectual engagement during her art classes. “We started with basic things like fonts, font types and points and now we are working on more accurate projects such as drawing on aluminum and three-dimensional shapes like the cube.”