People like you and me
This was the sixth "Cooltour" camp – a different kind of summer camp for young people both with and without disabilities and socially conspicuous behaviours. It attracted 76 young people for a programme that included, among others, fencing, skateboarding, and chilling out. What sounds fun-packed actually has a serious purpose: to promote inclusion.
Tables set in white decorate the Eichholz campsite in Bern. The slightly smoky scent of pizza spreads through the tent in which 76 young people, with and without disabilities, met at the end of July for a shared summer camp. "We talk consciously of people with and without disabilities," stresses Jonas Staub, Director of Blindspot, the national organisation that promotes the interests of children and young people. After all, he continues, we are first and foremost people, whether we have a disability or not. At camp, everyone is treated exactly the same, he adds.
On this particular morning, everyone is at work preparing crêpes and pizzas. Staub, mobile clamped to his ear, is hunting the length and breadth of the campsite in search of rolling pins. "It's an important day for us," he emphasises, as today's meal will be shared by the young people's families, and the members of the partner organisations' supporting foundations. Before it all kicks off, Staub gathers the waiting staff – including young people with disabilities – and makes sure that everyone knows what they have to do, and that they are comfortable doing it.
The first guests arrive even before the final table is set with its bright white cloth, and the rolling pins – now located – have been hard at work for some time when Jonas Staub calls the bursting tent to attention. Orders might take a little longer than planned, he warns, but the delay does nothing to dampen the mood.
Around 30 percent of the participants in the summer camp have some form of disability, but it is not particularly noticeable. The aim of the event is to provide a platform for shared activities. "We live in a society that is extremely segregated," says Staub. This inclusion project, however, offers neither special schools nor special treatment. If a blind girl were to drop her fork at lunch, the staff wouldn't immediately run to pick it up for her. Instead, she would be encouraged to take the initiative herself and ask for help.
The aim is for young people to learn to talk to each other, experience others positively, and so let go of prejudice. "It's easier with young people than it is with us adults," Staub explains. Supported by volunteers, the Blindspot team has a strategy that seems harsh at first: if a child doesn't immediately find a friend on the first day, they are left to their own devices for a while. "We don't intervene right away to put people together," says Staub. The young people have to work up the courage to approach others by themselves. Only by overcoming their inhibitions are they able to take a step forward, and gain positive experience with other people. Staub admits that it is hard on children who arrive on the first day and don't know how to make friends immediately, but adds that they cannot develop until they overcome their fears. This, in turn, breaks down prejudice. The results of this tough love speak for themselves.
That is certainly how Gioya's mother sees things. Gioya is attending for the third time, and her mother says she has the best feeling about this particular camp. Gioya also goes to holiday camps organised exclusively for children and young people with disabilities, but alongside its cool programme of street art, chilling out, fencing, skateboarding, etc., this one focuses on tackling prejudice. "It's amazing to see the progress that my daughter has made here," her mother says.
Although participants can choose from a wide range of activities, there isn't too much going on, and evenings are free. There is a good reason for this: it is one of the ways in which participants learn to take independent responsibility, to be active, and to get to know themselves and others. Some children, whether at home or in a care home, have always had everything handed to them. And while that's certainly very comfortable, "it doesn't prepare them for the way society really works," says Jonas Staub.
While being different seems perfectly normal here at camp, Blindspot has still not achieved its objective. Inclusion – the stated aim of the event organisers – is far from becoming a reality in our society. Have you ever been in a situation in which you didn't know how to deal with someone, with or without a disability? The confused lady swearing loudly at Stauffaucher in Zurich, who seems to be cursing passers-by. The blind man who commutes between Thun and Bern, and who is rumoured not to be blind at all. Or the deaf young man on the train who asks if the music that you're listening to is any good. How do you react when you come across these people?
The best way is with humanity. "Just remember that we are all people, whether we have a disability or not," is Jonas Staub's advice. Every one of us has our quirks and foibles, and much more is possible than we think. For example, Jonas Staub has developed a technique for blind snowboarders, even though snowboarding blind was thought by many to be virtually impossible. He takes the view that, ultimately, the things we have in common outweigh our differences.
Perhaps events like this will be nothing special in the future. Perhaps, one day, inclusion will be so automatic that it will no longer be worth a journalist reporting on it. Until that day, Blindspot will continue running a whole range of projects to help people – with or without disabilities – to live together. Here, at the campsite with the white tablecloths, everyone is treated exactly the same. They are people like you and me.
Blindspot is a national organisation that supports children and young people with and without disabilities.
Further information: http://www.blindspot.ch/
Cooltour is an inclusive holiday camp for children and young people aged between 10 and 19. Cooltour is centred around shared experience, fun, and living together.
Further information: http://www.cooltour.ch/
Report first published on 19.08.2015 on Tink.ch
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