Helping See the World in Colour

For children and adolescents, who learn and perceive the world through their senses of smell and touch fingertips, the ability to live independently in this world is very important. Visually impaired children all want to live their dreams, learn together with their sighted peers, enjoy a horseback ride, stand on the deck of a yacht, do work that excites them. They want to be leaders and they want to be winners just as much as any other child.

To encourage people with physical impairments to be independent and involved in public life, in the beginning of 2017 the BlueOrange Charity foundation supported the organisation of three camps for children and adolescents with special needs earlier this year. The “Winter in Riga” camp took place in Riga in February, followed by an inclusive March camp named “Different Riga in Different Latvia” organised in picturesque Amatciems, where also the international inclusive youth camp “World for all in Latvia” took place in June.

“Sightless and visually impaired children and adolescents need social integration as much as other people need to understand diversity and acceptance. Those who have severe health problems can use camps like these to learn to shed their individual burdens, to get to know one another, make friends, acquire new skills, and even set specific, achievable goals for their personal and collective development going forward. Children can set examples for one another, and one brilliant special-needs child can change the perceptions of ten able-bodied ones. Integration camps like these make healthy youths see with their hearts – another extremely important reason to hold more activities like this,” the camp’s main supporter and member of the board of the BlueOrange Charity Ingrīda Šmite notes.

The “Winter in Riga” four-week day camp was operated by the “Es Redzu” (I See) non-profit organization devoted to integrating people with special needs. The goal of the camp was to discover unusual culture and sporting opportunities in Riga for people with movement handicaps. The organisers created a friendly, inclusive environment seeking new activities and challenges in everyday surroundings. The camp had children skating, attending museums and exhibitions, dancing, meeting with very special people of character – blind detective novel writer Franciska Ermlere, wheelchair-bound artist Anna Kenne, and thirty year old sightless singer and radio favourite Edijs Fuksis, whose dream is to establish his own radio station.

According to the organisers of the camp, children and adolescents who have vision or mobility difficulties need opportunities and specially outfitted locations to which they can get on their own, where they can meet friends and supporters. This is an important component of social integration.

The inclusive camp in Amatciems gathered more than 25 youths with special needs and their friends. It featured a variety of training sessions, mobility exercises, sports activities, modern and authentic dance lessons, hikes and orienteering tasks. There were also discussions about everyday life of visually impaired people, and an introduction to the basics of leadership. Talks were held to discuss what happens inside a person’s mind – the fears, expectations, internal motivations, meditation, responsibility, and cooperation.

The summer camp program featured special guest experts – Ilmārs Znotiņš and Aivars Ošiņš, professional photographers, Charlie Lechtenberg, a teacher and a baseball coach for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, who demonstrated his method of teaching sports for blind and visually impaired pupils. Among the camp experts was also Pauls Irbins, head of the Children’s Science Centre “Zinoo” in Cēsis, who was leading a workshop where each of the camp participants created their first rocket model.

“Children with special needs are well aware of their situations; they need the opportunity to engage with society as much as they need a chance to meet others who share their experiences. At our events, they learn not to lose heart, to motivate themselves and to help each other out. We help youths share their positive energy and inspire each other, and that is a crucial achievement,” admits one of the camp coaches Atis Ķeņģis comments.