A Jungle Adventure Camp in India for the Persons with Deafblindness and Multiple Disabilities
We know that our senses evolved during the course of our human evolution in relation with the changing natural environment amidst which we live. What happens to us if we do not have one or more senses which, as human beings, we consider as normal? In reality we would never know what magic we miss.
A person who cannot see and hear, or has multiple disabilities since birth, never knows the experience of seeing and hearing. Those individuals who happened to lose one or more senses at some point in their life do understand the degree of sensory loss that cannot be replaced. They must depend on their tactile and olfactory senses to develop a working relationship with the environment and maintain their lives with dignity. We know from them that this new development is very difficult. We also know from them that without assistance from a trained person, they feel they are at a loss in society because their abilities remain almost hidden because of their sensory losses. In countries like India their problems are only compounded by the conditions of poverty, lack of knowledge of the community or family they belong to and the paucity of institutional or state level support which they need so much.
For more than ten years now, The Project Deafblind Society for the Visually Handicapped (SVH)1, a partner organization of Sense International (India)2, has been working in Kolkata (India) with these individuals with various degrees of sensory losses and multiple disabilities who come from widely different social strata. This Society, consisting of a few hard working members (mostly ladies), over the years demonstrated a high level of dedication in their chosen social cause. The Project Deafblind members and staff undertook to study the issues of deafblindness and educate themselves to develop a level of expertise to work with these sensory impaired individuals. Equipped with the required training and education they have undertaken various measures to rehabilitate these individuals through counseling and encouraging them to participate in various recreational and vocational activities. Along the way the Project team established strong connections with various government, non-government and corporate organizations to obtain and develop resources for their work.
Recently the author had the opportunity to accompany the Project team to Chandak Dampara3, a forest zone in Odisha, the site chosen to hold its 4-day camp for students with various degrees of sensory deficiency. This camping project was organized in collaboration with the East Zone Committee of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF)4 and the Government of Odisha5.
Over 50 persons participated in the camping experience. Participants included individuals of all ages and at all levels of sensory disabilities and stages of rehabilitation as well as parents, teachers, other professionals and businessmen. The camp experience provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the level of mutual cooperation and trust that was necessary among all the participants of different age groups and levels of sensory disabilities.
The camp activities included different kinds of exercises and competitive events designed to build capacity in both physical and mental areas, including various sports such as rock-climbing and river crossing. The emphasis was always on making the students self-sufficient and disciplined. The events were successful in that while they entertained, they also benefitted both students and their teachers and guides.
The camp taught all concerned quite a few things. First, it is necessary to have the will to create and lead a meaningful life. This requires a mind-set that one should never give up. One’s objective should be to set specific goals in life and use all available resources to fulfill those goals. Second, it is necessary that one should develop the will to convert a particular form of disability from a disadvantage to an advantage. For this, the remaining senses need to be cultivated as much as possible and used to their optimum levels. Third, it is necessary to keep in constant touch with persons of different levels of ability and organizations such as SVH to keep abreast of new developments in the field of sensory disabilities. Fourth, it is absolutely necessary for everyone to be clear-sighted, self-sufficient and dignified.
Two very important events occurred during the 4-day camp: a jungle safari in the wild life sanctuary, Chandak Dampara, and a visit to the twin caves Udaygiri and Khandagiri6 located close to Bhubaneswar7. Known for its splendour and pristine home to many species, the wildlife sanctuary contains a treasure trove of biodiversity. It is the habitat of elephants, deer, and wide variety of birds including peacocks. Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves are partly natural and partly artificial caves bearing archaeological, historical and religious importance. Climbing the hills meant a strenuous exercise for many campers; yet their achievements were reflected in their facial expressions. Some of them learned the technique of climbing the high stairs for the first time – techniques learned easily with pleasure.
The evenings were reserved for highly informative documentaries on mountains and mountaineering, wildlife and different aspects of nature. Dipan Kolita, a fourth generation mahoot (elephant rearer)8, absorbed all of us with his narratives about elephants and many of their behavioral features. Kolita illustrated his statements with anecdotes and observations which reflected his encyclopedic knowledge of elephants,
It is always difficult to depart from places like Chandak Dampara. The last night at Chandaka was reserved for a camp fire. It was a wonderful sight with the students of different abilities putting on their best performances, including singing, dancing, telling stories and performing drama; a few of which were specially created for this occasion.
Congratulations to Project Deafblind for organizing this first adventure camp as a celebration of their 10th year in existence. Thanks to SVH Project Deafblind for their dedicated work with persons with deafblindness and multiple disabilities.
Pulakesh Roy (email@example.com) teaches history at Vidyasagar College9, part of the University of Calcutta10.
For more information about the Society for the Visually Handicapped Project Deafblind, Kolkata, contact Ruma Chatterjee (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1 www.svhdeafblind.org; facebook.com/svhdb
2 www.senseintindia.org. Sense International
(India) is a small corporate member of DbI.