Learning to See Without Looking
BY LESLIE FERENC, Staff Reporter, Toronto Star
PORT CARLING, Ontario–When she became a counselor at the National Camps for the Blind (NCB), Carmelle Bussey learned to walk in the shoes of the visually impaired.
Like all new staff, she was blindfolded and led to the dining hall where she sat down to a meal unable to see where the plate, utensils, and glass had been placed on the table or what she was eating.
Bussey was also led around the grounds at Camp Frenda, the Ontario summer headquarters for the NCB which is run by Christian Record Services. It was an experience she won’t forget. It’s also one of the reasons Bussey has such affection for the camp and the people who come there every summer.
VETERAN COUNSELOR: Carmelle Bussey, 20, has spent several summers at Camp Frenda. This fall, the Southern Adventist University graduate is headed to law school. [Photo courtesy Carmelle Bussey.]
“The NCB is one of my favorite weeks,” Bussey said. It’s where campers enjoy a summer vacation from their lives in the city and enjoy a wide variety of traditional camp activities such as horseback riding, water skiing, swimming, hiking, repelling, climbing the ropes course, archery, and canoeing. As a counselor, it’s a very different experience from the mainstream programs at Frenda.
Despite their challenges, many campers have such positive attitudes about life, she said. “They inspire me. It’s very (spiritually) uplifting.” She works that much harder to insure all campers—even those struggling with their impairment—have the time of their lives and great memories to take home.
Some stand out, like two sisters with a hereditary condition that resulted in their blindness. They’re so independent; they won’t even let anyone help them with their luggage when they arrive. “You wouldn’t even know they are blind,” said Bussey.
Every now and then, the 20-year-old wonders what she would be like if her vision was impaired. “Would I be like them, or [would I] sit back and complain?”
The training, lead by NCB executive director Pat Page, is about breaking down barriers. She tells staff it’s okay to greet campers by saying, “Great to see you,” just as they would anyone else.
To make meals more appetizing and take the mystery out of eating, counselors and a team of volunteers explain what’s on their plates—starting clockwise. They also tell them how many steps are on the stairs and which way doors open. “You’re their eyes,” said Bussey.
Born at a local hospital near Camp Frenda, Bussey knows every inch of the site. Summers there have been a family tradition. Her grandfather was a ranger and her grandmother a cook for 10 years. It’s no surprise Bussey has many friends at NCB, one who remembers just how stiff she was her first year as a counselor, she said laughing.
For Bussey who recently graduated from [Southern Adventist] University in Tennessee and is heading to the University of Ottawa to study law, NCB is a much anticipated opportunity to reunite with old friends and meeting new ones.
“Many live for camp; it’s the highlight of their lives,” she said. “They really enjoy camp because they feel normal here. Everywhere else, they’re the odd ones out.”
Camp is a place where they can be safe because staff and volunteers are there for them ensuring their experiences are the best. It’s also a place for spiritual as well as personal growth.
Working with the campers has been life changing for Bussey who said she doesn’t see disabilities, but abilities. “I connect with them.”
But not everyone in society is that open. “Some still see people with disabilities as different,” she explained. “I wish more people had the same opportunities I have. I know I’ve grown as a person here. They would also grow.”
Since the NCB was established by Christian Record Services in Alberta in 1972, more than 43,000 visually impaired people of all ages have attended the camps at 24 locations in North America. The camps are free, thanks to support of many organizations including the Fresh Air Fund. There are also winter camps, a first experience for many who attend.
The NCB is one of 104 in the [Toronto Star’s] Fresh Air family. This summer, donations have fallen behind and we desperately need help to ensure our target is met. The kids, all 25,000 of them, are counting on it. We can’t let them down.
-- Reprinted courtesy Torstar Syndication Services.
Editor’s Note: The Toronto Star featured the National Camps for the Blind as part of its annual “Fresh Air Fund” appeal, established by the newspaper in 1901. Christian Record Services is a ministry of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.