On the obstacle course, 14-year-old Joseph crawled on his hands and knees through cloudy water and thick mud, avoiding the ropes strung above him at knee-height. Peers, parents, and onlookers cheered Joseph on as he triumphantly crossed the finish line.
Joseph’s participation in the muddy obstacle course surprised his parents, considering the slightest speck of dirt on his skin can upset him tremendously. Joseph has a visual impairment; he sees the world through touch, and can be extremely sensitive to what he touches. Joseph also has limitations in his ability to move actively and interact socially with peers.
At Family Nature Adventure Camp, Joseph let go of his worries about dirt and savored the exuberant cheers from onlookers. Joseph glowed – so proud that he completed the race. That moment brought him and his mom to a deeper level of mutual self-knowledge. It reinforced their belief that, despite his sensitivities, and with the proper support of those around him, Joseph can succeed!
Attending Family Nature Adventure Camp was a unique and precious experience for Joseph and his family; one that was joyfully shared with a supportive community of similar families that have children and youth with visual impairment.
Perkins School for the Blind and Parent Advocates for Children with Visual Impairment in the Philippines (PAVIC), along with a community of enthusiastic volunteers, planned the first Family Nature Adventure Camp after schools in the Philippines had been closed for nearly two years due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, affecting 40,000 school-aged children who are blind and visually impaired.
Throughout the pandemic, Perkins and PAVIC had developed a regular cadence of online meetings designed to support parents and keep children active while isolated at home. These ongoing sessions empowered families as they supported one another, connected with each other, and simply had fun while participating in distanced sport- and nature-focused activities with their children.
Together these parents begin to feel strong and hopeful for the future of their children.Ami Tango, Assistant Director for Asia and Pacific
Ami Tango, Assistant Director for Asia and Pacific Programs at Perkins School for the Blind, advised the parent-led group on meaningful activities during this time. “It’s important to be part of a community with people who want to invest their time in seeking all kinds of possibilities for their children with disabilities. Together these parents begin to feel strong and hopeful for the future of their children, as the web of support around them continues to grow throughout their community,” she shared.
The lively participation and deep connection that formed among families eventually ballooned into the idea for a Family Nature Adventure Camp — an opportunity to bring families together in person for a weekend after being isolated for so long.
The goal of the Family Nature Adventure Camp is to offer a safe place for families of children with visual impairment to come together and engage with nature and fitness activities in a judgment-free zone. The shared experiences among families fosters a naturally inclusive environment for all participants, and establishes strong connections with new families.
One parent shared, “During this camp experience, we don’t have to worry about what other people think about our child. Other families at the camp continued to cheer for us even if we were the slowest members of our team. They waited happily for us. It is a tremendous relief in my heart as a parent to not have to worry about other people, and to just enjoy that race with my daughter.”
As participants meet physical challenges in an emotionally supportive and joyful atmosphere, they build self-worth and strengthen internal family relationships. One visually impaired youth, Yousef, was excited at the prospect of camping outdoors and hanging out at the bonfire; however, with a complicated medical history the thought of joining races and obstacles worried her. “I was afraid that I couldn’t make it, but I wanted to try. And yes, I made it! I was so glad to have attended the camp. I am proud of my achievements and I met many new friends. I want to do it again. This experience made me want to explore and experience nature and see how far I can go.”
This experience made me want to explore and experience nature and see how far I can go.Yousef, 16
Activities at the camp are designed to be low stress and fun, and they are adapted to meet the needs of every participant. You could find participants taking part in an ‘amazing race’ involving hiking, running, crawling through muddy areas, and climbing bars. Other Camp favorites include talent shows, singing by the bonfire, cooking contests, parent bonding sessions, and sleeping through the night in tents.
The camp also offered opportunities for youth with visual impairment to step into leadership roles and gain invaluable experience to prepare them for future responsibilities. A proud parent shared, “Some of the visually impaired youth, like my daughter, participated as a facilitator and organizer of the event. This was a leadership opportunity for her that will definitely inspire her to grow with purpose in the future.”
A weekend away at Family Nature Adventure Camp undoubtedly tires parents out, but they return happy and proud of their children’s motivation and their teamwork. The exhaustion from camp doesn’t last long for this community of parents who are empowered to work together to build an inclusive world for their children. The success of the first Family Nature Adventure Camp snowballed into implementation of a second camp within less than a year, and is an activity that Perkins and PAVIC look forward to organizing regularly.