This summer vacation, from 21st to 28th April 2019, twenty six visually challenged children from the age of 12 to 18 years, from Mumbai, Thane, Dombivali, Kalyan, Ulhasnagar, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Solapur and Aurangabad attended a fantastic summer camp arranged specially for them by Snehankit Helpline at Jeevdaya Jain Dham, Bhalivali village near Virar.
Dream of Paritai
It was the dream of Paritai (Ms Parimala Bhatt, Founder of Snehankit Helpline), to bring together children from not just Mumbai but from all parts of the State and from different social and family backgrounds for a residential camp to learn from each other and make productive use of their summer vacation. This dream was turned into reality this year by the sheer determination and hard work of Ms Pallavi Shankar, Ms Sampada Palanitkar, Mr Aditya Dhanavade, Ms Geeta Subramaniam and the Snehankit Helpline team under the leadership of Paritai.
The Purpose and Aim of the Camp
The main purpose of the camp was to show the children how to be independent and manage themselves without family help. They would go on to share, communicate and adjust with others in a large group and learn to overcome difficulties from each other.
For the first time, pre-vocational guidance was given to visually challenged children so they could make more informed choices regarding their careers. The children were exposed to the idea of entrepreneurship to build a more positive attitude towards starting a business with minimal help from others. Attempt was also made to have something for everybody so that students of different abilities and skills participated in the camp.
Twenty Seven children, 13 girls and 14 boys came to the camp. Only one child left on the second day because she was not well, all others stayed and enjoyed themselves to the fullest. The youngest were from Std 7 and oldest were from Std 12. Other than children from the Dombivali centre, children came from Pune, Solapur Blind School, Mai Balbhavan (Home for Blind girls), Pune and Taramati Bafna Blind School, Aurangabad.
Children of diverse age groups and backgrounds got to interact with each other and their conversations turned out to be eye openers. Children from well to do families learnt about the trials and tribulations faced by those who were either orphaned or abandoned at birth and how these children were facing life in a positive manner. Children who were psychologically affected either due to bullying at school or other reasons were able to slowly open up and make friends with the others. Those who had never left the protective environment of home, where they were the centre of attention, learnt to adjust and stay harmoniously with others.
They behaved in an exemplary manner helping each other in making everyone feel at home. Some children who had never done mundane tasks like washing clothes were taught by the others – truly a step towards living independently. They never complained even once about the strict dietary rules of the venue, such as dinner at 6 pm or the simple Jain food served, or about getting up as early as 6 am every morning for Yoga.
They enjoyed the unstructured time given to them to freely interact with one another, which is so important at their age. Sometimes the chatting between them went on till late night, creating bonds of friendship that hopefully will last a lifetime.
The children were set on a path to knowing how to lead a well-adjusted, happy, independent life. Even the children who found it hard to adjust in the initial few days enjoyed themselves so much that they acknowledged that had they given up and gone home earlier, they would have missed out on such a precious experience. The children’s request to extend the camp and promise to come for more such camps is testament to the success of the camp.
Experiences of the volunteers and faculty
Many of the volunteers who had themselves never spent so much time with visually challenged children, found that being with them and overseeing their activities day and night at the camp was a life altering experience.
One of the volunteers spoke about how since she did not have a girl child of her own, she felt specially privileged to interact with the young girls. She had never known that braiding girls’ hair or chatting with them about her bangles or her sari would be such a pleasurable activity. Another volunteer spoke about how this was her first time away from her family for such a long duration but she didn’t miss them even for a moment because of the love and affection she got from the children at the camp. She said she learnt to be grateful for her own life from the children. ‘To Love and support one another’, is a valuable lesson she took away from the camp.
The volunteers who selflessly gave their time and attention to the children were Ms Sandhya Tanpure, Ms Mrunalini Gupte, Ms Alka Shrawane, Ms Geeta Subramaniam, Ms Meghana Borlikar, Ms Namrata Dudwadkar, Mr Leslie Chacko and Snehankit Helpline Board members Prof. Utkarsha Mallya, Ms Mangal Raje and Paritai herself. Mr Rajendra Pawar, special educator from Taramati Bafna Blind School, Aurangabad, was also very helpful to the students.
Apart from external faculty, Snehankit Helpline’s own faculty from the Dombivali Centre, Ms Pallavi Shankar, Ms Sampada Palanitkar, and Mr Aditya Dhanavade also gave valuable instructions to the students on many topics.
Many of the external faculty who conducted activities at the camp also went away with a completely different attitude about the capabilities of the children from when they first started. Ms Zuili Marathe, the French teacher, was so impressed with the children’s quick grasp of the language that she agreed to help them even after camp got over. She became so close to the children that on her last day she even brought her whole family to introduce them to the children.
The caretakers of Jeevdaya Dham where the camp was held also had only praise for the children. They commended the children on maintaining the discipline and peace of the place and adjusting admirably to the simple food served there.
Regular updates and photos from the camp were also shared with the children’s parents, which was appreciated a great deal by them and reassured them that their children were having a good time at the camp.
A detailed account of the activities at the camp will be provided in the Second Part of this blog. Do read the Snehankit Helpline Summer Camp for young students 2019- Part II to know more.