Camp Bowen’s summer independence camp programs are overnight summer camps that bring together blind, low vision, and Deafblind participants from across Canada for a balanced program of fostering independence, recreation, and friendship building. They provide a safe, fun, and empowering environment for campers to expand their skills and experience new things while combatting the isolation many Canadians who are blind and Deafblind currently face. Programs take place each summer and typically have between 10 – 40 participants per camp, made up of children, youth, and adults, divided by age and camp focus area. Camps are currently held at facilities on Bowen Island, British Columbia, and each of these last from five to twelve days. The Camp Bowen Society has two camp programs scheduled for the summer of 2021 but plans to bring back the full roster of eight summer independence camps, currently unavailable due to prohibitive accommodation costs, as part of the Bowen Island Recreation, Training and Meeting Centre project (see Section 4.5). Some camp topics include skills for participation in school band and other community music programs, basic and advanced accessible technologies used by blind and Deafblind people, Braille literacy, and peer support, among others.
“I’m 22. I went to Bowen since about 99, I think … the most important memory I can recall is feeling like I wasn’t different, like I was somewhere that everyone was the same as me and I found that to be really a confidence booster and really important.” Kaitlyn Kerr, Staff Member and Camp Bowen Alumna, 2012
People who are blind and Deafblind often have difficulties being viewed as social equals by their sighted peers. When they get to a supportive place with others who share their perspective, they have the freedom to be themselves and find new solutions for the challenges they face that have worked for their friends. As human beings, it is easier for us to understand the minds of people who share our ways of thinking and similar experiences. There is nothing like close friendships to give any of us the hope and resources we need to live life well. With the social and physical isolation which is sadly too common among blind and Deafblind people, the emotional connections they form with those who share their challenges and experiences help them develop social skills and self-worth. Camp life provides a stress free environment where people are not defined by their blindness or Deafblindness but rather by the things that make them the people they are and by uniting with others to achieve common goals.
The majority of our staff are blind or Deafblind and will serve as mentors to campers. Having campers experience mentorship from those who live blindness or Deafblindness everyday provides opportunities for practical learning about living as a person who is blind or Deafblind in the most effective manner possible. Throughout camp, campers and their mentors will do activities such as rock climbing, hiking, sailing, learning self-defence, doing tactile art projects, swimming/boating, horseback riding, playing blind/Deafblind sports, exploring the performing arts, and more. In addition, during small group sessions spread out throughout camp, campers and their mentors will discuss myths and misconceptions about blindness and Deafblindness and will promote positive attitudes. They will explore real-life situations blind and Deafblind people often face in their daily encounters with the public and their families. As part of the small group discussions, staff and guest speakers will introduce campers to organizations of the blind and Deafblind and to the accomplishments of successful blind and Deafblind people. The aforementioned activities and discussions will help campers deal with all aspects of blindness and Deafblindness and equip them with the confidence and belief in themselves needed to become capable, contributing citizens. Campers will learn that blindness or Deafblindness does not have to limit them, and that blind and Deafblind people can live full, well-rounded lives.
Throughout each camp, campers will have opportunities to learn some of the skills of blindness/Deafblindness using the Structured-Discovery learning method (see Chapter 3). Structured-Discovery learning and its principles of problem solving, exploration, empowerment, and a positive view on blindness and Deafblindness will be incorporated into all camp activities. By using this approach, campers can gain self-confidence and essential skills to navigate new and unfamiliar situations. Experienced PTCB instructors from the blindness/Deafblindness skills training program and camp counsellors will work together to provide this important component of the summer independence camps.
Over the summer, the Bowen Island Recreation, Training and Meeting Centre will become the home of Camp Bowen Society’s child, teen, adult, and family summer independence camp programs, allowing these programs to continue for generations to come. By owning our own centre, we can reduce our program costs by $401,000 annually for a complete roster of eight summer independence camps.
It is anticipated that many Camp Bowen Society’s campers will go on to attend intensive blindness/Deafblindness skills training programs at the centre and vice versa. For training alumni, camps will provide a way to stay connected with the blind and Deafblind community after graduation.
“Imagine how difficult it is to fit in as a teenager with a vision problem. Bowen Island brought the normalcy of being a teenager to these kids. They didn’t have to try and fit in, they could just be themselves.” A mother of a 13-year-old camper
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