Herbert Swoboda, chairman of Wilde Rose e.V. – Interkulturelles Jugendnetzwerk im Bund Deutscher PfadfinderInnen (BDP), firstname.lastname@example.org
Our inclusion journey began when the mother of a boy with physical disabilities asked why he couldn’t take part in the holiday camps that his able-bodied brothers were attending. The answer was in fact a second question: Indeed, why not?
That, in a nutshell, was the starting point of our efforts to extend our programme of activities to inclusive camps. Our journey turned out to be a series of learning processes, since we were not professionally trained camp counsellors.
In line with our motto “Where there’s a will, there’s a way... we just need to find someone to help put the idea into practice”, we started to include young wheelchair users in our preparations. Assistance came from the new funding programme “Kultur macht stark” of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. From a concept point of view, we were quite clear about wanting to work inclusively rather than offering holiday camps specifically for youngsters with disabilities.
Because we already knew our potential clients, we knew what kind of support they would need. To begin with, we worked with four young men with varying levels of impairment but who were all wheelchair users and each needed a personal assistant. It was not easy to find volunteer assistants who would be willing to provide this high level of care.
We were lucky in that we had good contacts to a nursing college so that the volunteer nurses were in fact only slightly older than the participants in their care. Since they shared the same interests, a disco evening, for instance, was fun for the assistants, too, rather than an annoyance. Evening singalongs around a camp fire, too, were enjoyable for all participants, some of whom stayed up far past their bedtime.
Our camps are designed such that they respond to the needs of the participants, with the young people largely taking their own decisions on what they want to do in the group, weather and other circumstances permitting.
The daily programme, decided by the whole group, is communicated via large, clearly written posters but also read out during the morning session. The day’s activities are quite different from what they would be on a normal school day – especially at the camps we organise in Greece. The high daytime temperatures mean most activities take part in the evening and after dark, so participants normally sleep in late, enjoy a late breakfast and take a nap after lunch. The disabled participants had no problem adjusting to the unfamiliar schedule.
Young people with disabilities are at risk of being treated as children rather than as equals. Provided they are old enough, of course they are able to enjoy a beer as much as their able-bodied peers. To a bystander, that can take some getting used to, as can the fact that sometimes they sit in their wheelchairs while observing what’s going on around them, rather than getting attention all the time. Why shouldn’t they have the right to spend some time alone without being fussed over constantly? Any other able-bodied participant might come up to them and ask, are you ok? Or would you like to sit at our table and watch us play cards? Meanwhile, the able-bodied youngsters help during mealtimes and feed their friends who can’t eat on their own. This has become completely normal, although initially some were apprehensive about having to wipe away the occasional dribble.
It turned out to be a good idea to integrate our small group of ten participants into groups of 30 to 50 participants of varying age. Not only has this widened our scope for inclusive action; it also enables participants aged over 18, so beyond the age limit for “Kultur macht stark”, to continue going to camp.
1. We can achieve so much more in mixed groups than we think.
2. Spending time in close quarters with disabled peers triggers something in above-bodied participants (see the poem by Imad Karim).
3. Youngsters with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. They can go to bed and have breakfast whenever they want. They can participate in all activities, enjoy the occasional beer, or simply spend time by themselves.
4. We need to remember what the alternatives are for them if they can’t attend camp with everyone else: a daily routine, evenings spent watching TV, and an early bedtime. After all, their professional carers have the right to a break, too.
I take your hand in mine
Not because you are disabled
We are both disabled
In our own ways
You are just like me
A brother on this life’s journey
Even if my suffering is invisible
While yours is apparent
Your smile is a balm on my wounds
Your laugh is a wellspring
When the wheels of your chair turn
My spirit comes alive.