By Shopnil Wahid
We live in a dynamic world where the only thing that is constant is change. Society has evolved from the era of industrialization to digitalization, shifting traditional demands from the workforce as well. With innovation in technology, we are conquering many of our limitations and catering to our ever-evolving needs. But sadly, our education system is still trailing behind, following the traditional methods of learning that lack variation and are devoid of providing skills that can equip the younger generation with a sense of confidence, imagination, creativity and novel experiences. We are also guilty of marginalizing children and young adults who are physically or psychologically challenged by not creating an accessible environment where they can thrive.
To break free from this limiting mindset and create an inclusive environment, “Heroes for All Inc.” a youth leadership platform and non-profit organization created a four-day camp experience titled “Camp Abilities Bangladesh” for children with visual impairment in January 2018. In collaboration with Camp Abilities USA, the project brings both visually impaired and visually abled young people together to celebrate the spirit of freedom and connectivity through sports.
Camp Abilities USA is a developmental sports camp for children who are visually impaired, blind or deaf-blind. Dr. Lauren Lieberman established Camp Abilities over 20 years ago in Brockport, New York and continued to expand branches in various American states. The concept of the camp has also reached different countries such as Finland, New Zealand, Portugal, Brazil, and Latvia.
Realizing the significance of a similar camp in Bangladesh, Dr. Rehnuma Karim, who was also a former member of faculty at the College of Brockport, the State University of New York reached out to Dr. Lieberman in 2017 to bring this experience to Bangladesh under one of the projects run by her non-profit organization, Heroes for All (HFA). Camp Abilities Bangladesh was launched to build awareness on providing accessibility and a sense of normalcy in the lives of children who are visually impaired through inclusive activities that can empower them with the belief that everyone can overcome limitations with the right mindset.
Dr. Lieberman and her team members, Dr. Megan Irwin and Dr. Ali Brian – both from South Carolina University, traveled to Bangladesh to help HFA launch the first camp in Bangladesh.
30 students from different universities and educational institutes in Bangladesh were selected to receive a two-day training session by Dr. Lieberman and her team at North South University to become camp counselors. The students were trained on how to communicate and work with people with disabilities.
HFA’s mission is to help the youth become morally responsible and conscious global citizens by realizing their full potential and build a purposeful life through active civic engagement, informed life choices, and global connectivity. The camp was a small attempt to create a ripple of change.
The two-day event brought counselors from different universities together with the visually impaired children from various schools across Bangladesh run by Assistance for Blind Children (ABC). The camp was held on January 19 and 20, 2018 at Sultana Kamal Mahila Complex.
At the briefing sessions, the children spoke eloquently on how they should no longer be seen as burdens, but assets to Bangladesh as they too can perform every task with a little support and guidance.
The student volunteers and counselors not only developed organizing and communication skills in diverse settings through this event but were also moved by the spirit of the children. They wore blindfolds so they could experience the world as the participants do.
As the event started, each participant was paired up with a counselor and divided into different teams: Tigers, Lions, Elephants, Eagles, and Cheetahs. Both male and female children participated in rounds of cricket, football, basketball, and racing.
On the last day of this event, the children received quite the treat. The Captain of the Bangladesh National Team, Mashrafe Mortaza, and former Test Cricket Captain Mushfiqur Rahim attended the event amidst the Tri-Nation Tournament and joined them for a game of cricket. They commended the children for their determination. This event was an eye-opener for the venerated Bangladeshi Cricketers.
A fund-raising dinner and closing ceremony followed the day camp at North South University with the Vice Chancellor, Dean and members of the Board of Trustees present. Dinner was followed by a fund-raising auction of cricket gear signed by Mashrafe and Mushfiqur. All the money raised was donated to ABC.
Sponsors such as BRAC Bank, Qatar Airways, City Bank, Galaxy group, Plummy Fashion, Nitol-Niloy group, Islam group, Meghna Group and Akij Food & Beverage Ltd partnered with HFA to bring this initiative to life.