Authentic Inclusion

At ETI, we believe that everyone has the right to actively participate in their community. We strive to ensure that every child feels like they belong and can bring their full selves forward, without fear of judgment. If a child feels that they have to change their behavior to fit in, we have not done our job to the best of our ability.

In this photo: Shown from the back, two girls hold hands during a team activity in ETI's summer Life Skills Intensive Program

In this photo: Shown from the back, two girls hold hands during a team activity in ETI's summer Life Skills Intensive Program

We believe in authentic inclusion; going a step above the human rights approach, establishing confidence in participants while breaking down barriers to inclusion.

What is the Human Rights-Based approach?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the human rights-based approach focuses on the relationship between individuals and decision-makers.

How we disrupt the narrative

At ETI, we go a step above the human rights-based approach. We believe that everyone has basic human rights as an established right. With this understanding, we are able to focus on breaking down barriers to inclusion through our five empowerment and integration training programs.

Volunteer Spotlight: Remi Hamzeh

Remi Hamzeh, who volunteers as a life skills trainer, social literacy trainer, and paramedic, is our Volunteer Spotlight!

Outside of ETI, she is a clinical pathologist/psychologist.

In this photo: Remi Hamzeh

In this photo: Remi Hamzeh

How did you learn about ETI? 
Our doctor at uni, Dr. Chartouni, told us about it as a chance to have an internship. Then, the country director Anna Barbosa told us more about it.

Why did you decide to volunteer? 
It was a chance for me to discover something new. I'm already volunteering with special abilities since childhood but I haven't worked with blind kids before separately.

What has surprised you most about working with ETI? 
How real it is and how close you'd become while working with these kids, especially in the home visits. As well as the observation and the new things you'd see and analyze then.

In this photo: a quote from the text featuring Remi Hamzeh

In this photo: a quote from the text featuring Remi Hamzeh

What have you learned by volunteering with ETI? 
That the correct terminology is Persons with Disabilities and every need they have they improve an ability that makes them unique their own way. And that anyone can make something, we (humans) just need to support each other.

What is your biggest takeaway? 
That if we were the ones we needed when we were kids...everything will change around the globe.

What is the most memorable accomplishment of your volunteer experience? 
Making one of our participants fight for her dreams and keep going with her (hard conditions in university) although everyone else was telling her to quit.

What might someone be surprised to know about you? 
That I'm visually impaired too, and I wanted to know more about this world (blindness) for that I still have some light in my path and I want to make it wider - (especially that my visual impairment isn't diagnosed yet accurately).

What do you do when you aren't volunteering for ETI?

Volunteer with other organizations, work, and study (finishing my thesis).

Volunteer Spotlight: Tim Mauro

In this photo: Tim Mauro explains a science experiment to observers at Life Skills Camp, 2018

In this photo: Tim Mauro explains a science experiment to observers at Life Skills Camp, 2018

Occupation: 

I developed an automated system that trades stocks, and the "automated" part frees me up for my great love of travel and volunteering with groups like ETI.

What has surprised you most about working with ETI? 

I found myself having preconceived notions about what being visually impaired was all about, and needed to readjust when I got to know some of these folks.  My picture of blindness didn't match with reality, and I am improved as a person having learned the real deal.  This is the whole point of ETI: overturning misconceptions and "opening eyes".

What have you learned by volunteering with ETI? 

I have come to fully appreciate the capabilities and extraordinary gifts possessed by the folks that ETI serves.  I've been honored to travel to Lebanon as a volunteer and immerse in a new culture and way of life.  My biggest takeaway is never-never-never assume about someone you don't know because of a label - in this case the label called "blind".  Get to know them first and they will invariably teach you something big and new.

What is the most memorable accomplishment of your volunteer experience? 

Twice serving at the annual Life Skills Camp in Beirut.  I mostly worked in the science room helping construct neato experiments, and saw the kids have that "AHA" moment where they built something with their own hands, learned the science behind it, and observed the result - a bubbling volcano, or a compass that points North every time, or a record player that actually plays the sounds.  I envision them going home aware of a bigger world than they knew coming in.


What do you do when you aren't volunteering for ETI?

I volunteer with some other groups and travel to places like Cambodia and Kenya doing similar work. For hobbies - amateur astronomer, pretend race car driver, baseball nut, exploring new places, and learning, always learning.

Camp Rafiqi: Cultivating Confidence

In this photo: a group of volunteers gather plastic items to be recycled using trash bags in a wooded area.

In this photo: a group of volunteers gather plastic items to be recycled using trash bags in a wooded area.

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.”

In this video: ETI's Founder and CEO Sara Minkara guides Fatima, a student with visual impairment, to her STEM class at Camp Rafiqi 2017.

Intellectual stimulation is one of the expected outcomes of Camp Rafiqi’s curriculum because learning and critical thinking allows individuals to expand their minds.

Besides learning, though, social engagement and personal accomplishment are also expected outcomes. Being in an environment in which opinions are wanted and creativity is encouraged can, quickly and simply, turn wallflowers into contributors. This is a major piece to the puzzle of inclusion in society—those who have been marginalized must, of course, learn new things every day and grow intellectually, but they must also become empowered to speak their minds and be themselves.  

“Today the children were excited and every day they share their increasing enthusiasm, express their opinions and suggest new things,” says Rania. “At first, they were scared and hesitant to do something new but now they have become more acclimated, and more enthusiastic to speak for themselves about their feelings and they have begun to express their feelings by drawing.”

In this photo: Rania, ETI art class trainer (left) poses with a camp participant, who is showing off his sculpture; she wraps her arms around his waist.

In this photo: Rania, ETI art class trainer (left) poses with a camp participant, who is showing off his sculpture; she wraps her arms around his waist.

Art Group Leader Jana concurs. “Yes, they have definitely opened up, but on the first day, they were shy and uncomfortable with the blindfolds, especially in the science class because they work with their hands,” she says. “They have talked about this in the cogenerative dialogues that take place throughout the camp.”

As noted in previous blog posts, Identity classes have been an important component to Camp Rafiqi’s overall goals. The identity classes seek to cultivate independent thoughts of how we see ourselves within a community through a dialogue between peers, the creative process, literacy, and reflection. This curriculum is essential in empowering those who have been marginalized in that it teaches them to speak for themselves and to address their feelings.

“The children have enjoyed the class, we have witnessed many improvements with them, they know themselves better after venting out their inner feelings, and they say things they do not tell their parents about,” says Tala Badr, an identity trainer for Camp Rafiqi. “Yesterday we had someone who cried while talking. Identity class is very personal, the children tell private things about themselves to me. This is not easy, of course, because they don’t know me well, but venting to someone they don’t know makes them feel more comfortable.”

In the picture: a music teacher sits to the left of a participant with visual impairment at a piano and guides his hands on the keys.

In the picture: a music teacher sits to the left of a participant with visual impairment at a piano and guides his hands on the keys.

Participants have also become more comfortable, and have realized their potential, during their STEM, soccer, music, and theater classes. To continue this momentum, we want the children to immerse themselves in work that further demonstrates that they are not a burden to society—and that they can contribute to the improvement of their communities.

Looking Ahead

“I felt that the tree planting project was effective, especially on youth with visual impairment,” says Yara Kobrossy, who formerly facilitated these projects. “They were very involved and excited. They wanted to do everything on their own—carrying the trees around, not afraid of falling down. They were the ones who taught the sighted participants. They planted around 60 trees, and filled a road that was empty. One of the visually impaired people was responsible for keeping tabs on the bus.”

Being on the receiving end of society is disempowering. As human beings, we are driven to seek out self-fulfillment, independence, and dignity. Being a fully-integrated member of society means contributing to society as well. According to twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of basic human needs, the need to feel as if one belongs at the top of the list of what every person across the globe needs. This means that humans don’t just need the basics such as food and shelter—they also need self-fulfillment in order to be fully functioning members of society. This includes being on the giving end. Being on the giving end allows individuals to gain confidence, because they have been given power and autonomy—often for the first time in their lives.

Just ask Cerine. “I love to do my own chores without my mother’s help,” she reported to us after her involvement with the Social Project Program. This may seem like a small task, but for someone like Cerine, it’s life-changing—and it’s why ETI was created. 

What is Camp Rafiqi?

In the picture: Tim Mauro, far right, assists a student (center) and volunteer (far left) with putting together a record player made of paper, a pin, a pencil, and tape during a science class.

In the picture: Tim Mauro, far right, assists a student (center) and volunteer (far left) with putting together a record player made of paper, a pin, a pencil, and tape during a science class.

“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?

Feeling Included

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.

In the picture: a group of about fourteen students sit on chairs around a table, with two teachers (one standing, one sitting in a chair), and discuss "Symbolism and Storytelling."

In the picture: a group of about fourteen students sit on chairs around a table, with two teachers (one standing, one sitting in a chair), and discuss "Symbolism and Storytelling."

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.

In the picture: A volunteer holds materials while a student creates a sculpture representing herself during an art class.

In the picture: A volunteer holds materials while a student creates a sculpture representing herself during an art class.

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 picture: four children stand around a table with several records strewn about. A UNHCR representative (in a blue vest) and Tim Mauro, who stands and holds a paper cone, supervise the activity.

In the picture: four children stand around a table with several records strewn about. A UNHCR representative (in a blue vest) and Tim Mauro, who stands and holds a paper cone, supervise the activity.

“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.”

Creativity

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.”

In the picture: Dr. Mona Minkara stands in front of a classroom full of students and teaches a science class.

In the picture: Dr. Mona Minkara stands in front of a classroom full of students and teaches a science class.

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.”

Playing Together

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.

In the picture: a group of about four children, to the left, watch a group of about four other children, to the right, practice a soccer drill in the corner of an open room while a volunteer supervises.

In the picture: a group of about four children, to the left, watch a group of about four other children, to the right, practice a soccer drill in the corner of an open room while a volunteer supervises.

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.