Ayundira’s parents were worried.
Their 4-year-old daughter, who has low vision, was showing signs of developmental delay. They wanted to take her to an expert, but early intervention services for children with visual impairment are rare in their home country of Indonesia.
So they were grateful when they heard about Indonesia’s first-ever “baby camp” – a weekend-long program offering parents of young children who are blind a chance to network with other families and discover ways to help their sons and daughters thrive.
At the camp, held April 1-3 in Bandung, Indonesia, Ayundira was introduced to a rich learning environment where her vision was stimulated using appealing toys and tactile materials.
“It was the first time her parents saw her reach out and grab a toy,” said Weningsih, a Perkins International educational specialist who helped organize the camp. “When we met Ayundira’s parents they didn’t know what to do. They left (the camp) excited and motivated.”
In all 17 families participated, including 18 children ages 8 months to 6 years.
“Most of these parents had never even met another child with visual impairment before,” said Deborah Gleason, regional director of Perkins International’s Asia and Pacific programs. “So just getting them all in the same room was really very powerful.”
Participating parents networked with their peers and shared their stories. The camp also featured a number of interactive play sessions during which parents and children had opportunities to learn and share new skills.
“We designed the activities so the parents could improve their knowledge and skills, but we also kept it fun so they could interact with each other,” said Weningsih. “For the children, we encouraged them to explore new toys, tactile materials and learning environments during both individual and group play.”
Gilby, 3, arrived at camp reluctant to leave his mother’s side. But with encouragement from the instructors, his mom allowed him to explore more on his own.
“Gilby was very active,” said Weningsih. “He showed lots of independence and problem-solving skills.”
There are an estimated 1.7 million children and young adults, ages 0-24, with visual impairment in Indonesia. Approximately half of this population has an additional disability.
Early intervention services for children with disabilities are considered key to building a strong foundation for future learning and development. But in Indonesia, and across the Asia and Pacific region, Gleason said few such programs are available.
The early intervention camp in Indonesia was inspired by similar successful efforts in Vietnam in 2015 and Thailand in 2014.
“We’re always looking for innovative service models,” said Gleason. “These camps help us bring parents together and provide life-changing services to their children.”