Essay about Volunteering at a Camp for Deaf Children

Essay about Volunteering at a Camp for Deaf Children

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Reflections on Volunteering at a Camp for Deaf Children


It was the first night of camp, and the kids were lining up for dinner. Most were still showing signs of adjusting: the older, seasoned campers were renewing friendships and checking out possible new ones, the girls carrying on animated conversations while their eyes strayed ever so slightly, sweeping the area like radar, acknowledging the presence of a teenaged boy with a blip in the eyes; the younger campers were more reserved, fighting nervousness and apprehension. I noticed one boy, who looked about eight years old, harassing the others in line and refusing to follow his counselor’s admonitions to keep his hands to himself. He kept bothering other campers and just turned away each time his counselor tried to tell him to stop. I watched the battle of wills with a detached interest while carrying on a conversation with the other kitchen staff volunteers. We had finished preparing the meal for the two hundred campers and staff, and we now just relaxed and waited for them to eat. My attention strayed back to the miscreant in line, and I noticed the counselor grab him by the arm to turn him around so that he could look him in the eyes while he emphatically signed, “Stop it.” The boy still would not listen; he turned his head and put both hands up, edge to edge, as a barricade between his eyes and the counselor’s words. I laughed at my sudden comprehension of sign language, that wonderful, poetic movement of hands and facial expressions that the deaf use to communicate. I saw myself as a child, covering my ears to block out my mother’s scolding words. Without conscious reflection I remarked, “These kids are perfectly normal. They just hear differently than we do.”

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...e of the campers was in the immediate vicinity. He asked us where he could find her. We asked how old she was so we could send him off towards the younger or older kids as appropriate. He held his hand, palm down, at his waist and said, “She’s this tall.” When we didn’t immediately react, he attempted further to identify her: “She’s deaf.” We said nothing and directed him to the Camp Director’s cabin, and when he was far enough away, a volunteer chuckled and said, “She’s deaf, huh? That really narrows it down in this camp.” While we all laughed, not so much at the father, but more at the absurdity of his remark, I could not help but feel regret for the child who was reduced to her deafness in her father’s view. And for the parent, who did not know his daughter as a person. Didn’t he know that she was a wonderful, normal child? She just heard differently than he did.

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