By Kaelanne Jordan
The Bethesda for persons with disabilities (PwDs) will be hosting a respite camp for children and adults with all disabilities from August 2–12 at the Holy Faith Convent, Couva secondary school.
Founder Saira Joseph-La Foucade assured families that the camp is a “safe environment” where volunteers and qualified personnel will cater and develop activities specifically for the needs of PwDs.
“So, it’s not a camp where children will be forced to do something they cannot do…We literally plan for the persons in mind and not just doing general activities and the person has to fall in,” she explained.
Parent to a son with autism, Joseph-La Foucade founded Bethesda. This Catholic community promotes the inclusion of special-needs people into church life, while providing moral support and advice to their families.
“When I came to Bethesda and see how they treat people, taking their needs into consideration, I finally feel that my child is not just special, but human too. So, our approach to everything is to cater to the PwDS and their needs as compared to forcing the person to conform them.”
PwDs under the age of 18 will be hosted August 2–5 while the following week, August 9–12, adults with disabilities. The cost is $500 per week. The camp will also have six participants from a children’s home.
Commenting on why host a camp like this, Joseph-La Foucade explained she noticed that current camps only target persons with specific disabilities. She also observed camps run from July during the hours of 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. latest. The Bethesda respite camp, however, runs till 4 p.m.
Joseph-La Foucade shared that the initial idea for the camp was to run one Saturday every month commencing last May. “But when I started talking to parents, I realise that parents said that will still be difficult because they’re working…or if you’re not working, Saturday is the day they go to the grocery. So,
Saturday I realise was a challenge for parents, so it really is a result of the feedback of parents as to what they felt would suit especially the younger ones…”
She continued, “…Because what tends to happen, their siblings go camping, and they don’t go to anything. And we put it at a time in August because most of the camps are in July and they tend to take breaks in August. So, if the siblings want to go to camps in July, no problem, in August you can now focus on persons with disabilities.”
Joseph-La Foucade stressed that siblings of PwDs are also welcomed. She commented “a familiar face helps, and it’s good for siblings to see persons with disabilities being able to do something”.
She mentioned the importance of utilising students from Holy Faith Convent is to provide them with an opportunity to exercise their corporate social responsibility. “But it gives the children the opportunity to interact with persons with disabilities and a better idea of what our lives are like.”
She expressed thanks to the Autistic Society of Trinidad and Tobago and the Down Syndrome Family Network for their support and participation.
“One of the things for me in our disability community is that everybody operates in a silo. It is rare that you get an opportunity where more than one NGO is networking with each other….”
Both NGOs were invited to make presentations each Tuesday for the duration of the camp. Families of PwDs were invited to visit August 9. The camp will also have an onsite clinical psychologist for parent counselling sessions.
Joseph-La Foucade spoke of visits from the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and representatives from the Ministry of Social Development, Disability Affairs Unit “coming to share information”.
“What the Ministry told me is that they recognise people only know of the special child grant and not aware of the different services the Ministry offers. So, they want to use this opportunity to reach the families directly….”
The line-up of camp activities includes art, music, and specific exercises to coordinate the gross motor skills development of PwDs. There will also be viewing of movies on Catholic Netflix: FORMED in the afternoons.
Campers will be able to use the bouncy castle, a field to run and play, do hula hoops, and bouncing balls, to name a few.
She asserted that the camp’s inclusive play therapist and clinical psychologist Toni Blackett-Felix will be using play as a means of encouraging social development among the campers with disabilities. “And that is very lacking in that it does not come naturally but also because they have always been home, pandemic or not,” Joseph-La Foucade observed.
Meals will be provided at no charge however persons with “extremely restrictive diets” are asked to provide their own meals.
Online training and on-site training for volunteers begin Friday, July 29, and Saturday 30.
For more information on the Bethesda for persons with disabilities respite camp, contact Saira Joseph-La Foucade at 297-8140.