Bethesda Catholic Community, a member of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission, in conjunction with the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Faith held its first Respite camp programme at Holy Faith Convent, Couva (HFCC) from August 2 to August 12.
‘Respite’ is the temporary care of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) for their caregivers/family to get a break. It was the first to be held in Trinidad and Tobago.
My name is Dana-Marie Sookoo. I am a 15-year-old student of HFCC, and I was a volunteer. One of the reasons I chose to do this was to get experience as I want to become a paediatric neurosurgeon. This opportunity allowed me to learn how to act properly and appropriately around PwDs as I would not want them to feel offended or insulted.
There was a four-day volunteer training for us to be prepped before camp, both online and onsite, which included activities to help our director Saira Joseph-La Foucade arrange the site.
The camp provided barrier-free indoor and outdoor experiences for the campers which promoted personal growth and fostered independence for both children and adults with disabilities.
The first week of the camp, The Autistic Society hosted circle time every day of the week. This included activities like singing, games to help us get to know each other, dancing, and socialising, which was enjoyable also for volunteers as not everyone would have known each other.
Campers were encouraged to try new experiences to gain self-confidence, learn cooperation, and communicate in a safe, fun environment. As a volunteer it was extremely fun to hang out with all the PwDs, getting to know their needs, what they like to do, what their favourite movies, food, colour, and hobbies were. During camp, we had a big event called an ‘Open Day’ for people who are outside of camp to see the hard work and vision we have and stand for inclusion of PwDs.
There were display booths from the following stakeholders: Autistic Society of T&T, Down Syndrome Family Network, Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, Metanoia Education Therapy, Building Blocks Joint Attention/Cognitive Therapy Development, The House of Creative People, and the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities.
For children who visited there were added attractions such as: free popcorn, sno cones and a bouncy castle.
Free parent counselling was available every day by Nadine Lezama of the Building Blocks Association.
Here are some reasons to send your PwDs to camp:
The words I would use to describe my experience is: encouraging, inspirational, supportive, and FUN. Will I volunteer again? The answer is absolutely ‘yes!’.