Seven students in Thailand made memories that will last a lifetime at a deafblind camp organized by Perkins International.
The camp, the first of its kind in Thailand, also served as a valuable learning and networking opportunity for 15 teachers working at schools for the blind and deaf across the country.
"It was a unique way to bring the students and teachers together," said Deborah Gleason, regional coordinator for Perkins International's Asia/Pacific programs. "This camp really speaks to how we work through partnerships. People from multiple organizations collaborated with a common goal – to expand learning opportunities for students who are deafblind in Thailand."
Held over nine days in March 2014, the camp took place at a rural home located several hours outside of Bangkok. It provided seven students who are deafblind with opportunities to socialize and practice life skills outside the classroom.
"Students learned to manage their daily routine, from washing their clothes, to picking vegetables and cooking meals with their teachers, to cleaning up together," said Kansinanat Thongbai, a Thailand-based educational specialist working with Perkins International. "They also had opportunities to choose from a variety of fun vocational activities."
The students made jewelry, gardened, shopped and visited a local market where they sold desserts they had made.
Manee, a student from Lampang School for the Blind, improved her communications skills during the camp. One of Manee's learning objectives was to use sign language to make requests. Throughout the camp, teachers observed her requesting items, such as scissors during the jewelry-making activity.
Manee made a new friend in fellow student Oy. The two used tactile sign language to communicate and play with each other. Oy was also able to use a Perkins Brailler for the first time during the camp. She had previously only learned braille by using a slate and stylus.
There are few specialized services for students with deafblindness and students who are visually impaired with multiple disabilities in Thailand. There's also a shortage of trained professionals in the field. Perkins International has been working for over two decades to change this by holding teacher trainings and advocating for improved special education policies.
In the last two years alone, Perkins International has trained over 500 teachers from 13 schools for the blind and 77 special education centers across the country.
"Today there's significantly more interest and commitment to serve children who are deafblind and visually impaired with multiple disabilities in Thailand," said Gleason. "There are more programs, but there's still a significant need for even more."
Teachers at the deafblind camp used the experience to network and watch their peers in action, learning tips and strategies from one another. Building on the success of the camp, they formed several social media groups to continue the collaboration online.
"The camp was a way for some of the teachers to see what's possible," said Gleason. "They learned together and are still learning from each other."
Other camp partners included the Christian Foundation for the Blind (CFBT), Ratchasuda College of Mahidol University, Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, Lighthouse Family and the International Society for Augmentative Alternative Communication (ISAAC Thailand).