It’s the first camp of its kind held in Canada to mark DeafBlind Awareness Month. Deafblind Canadians from across the country are in Winnipeg this week for the first ever, national Deaf-Blind Camp.
Held at Camp Manitou just west of the city, the event was organized by the Resource Centre for Manitobans who are Deaf-Blind. There were more than 30 adult campers. All had some combination of hearing and vision loss.
People like MJ Stewart, who came from Fredericton, N.B. to take part in the event. The 29-year-old was part of the committee that helped organize the camp.
“There’s about 75 per cent of Deafblind Canadians who have mental health issues because of the isolation, so our goal was to support Deafblind Canadians to come to this camp and, you know, meet other people,” Stewart said.
Stewart added it’s important that Deafblind Canadians know their self worth. “I also wanted Deafblind individuals to feel how important they are, how they are valued.”
Gayle Northcott turned 75 on Tuesday. The Winnipegger’s birthday wish was to try zip-lining for the first time. On Wednesday, that dream became a reality.
“Not nervous, just anxious to get going. I waited a long time for this,” Northcott said.
Northcott called the experience exhilarating, but said it didn’t last very long. “It was so short. It was too fast, I couldn’t see the scenery.”
Organizers said the goal of the camp is for campers to have fun, try new things and meet new people.
“The feeling was just indescribable. Seeing her smile that big and having her dream fulfilled for her 75th birthday, it just meant the world to me,” Angela Mayen-Obregon, a coordinator with the resource centre, said.
“Living as a Deafblind person is extremely isolating,” she explained. “It’s very important for mental health, having peer support, being able to socialize, and really forget about the isolation for a week is one of our main goals.”
Stewart said Northcott’s trip down the zip-line was just one of many inspiring stories to come out of camp.
“I saw two Deafblind men, completely Deafblind, guiding each other in the dark, going to the washroom,” Stewart explained. “It was actually very inspiring.”
There were also dozens of support workers and intervenors at the camp, to help campers with their communication and guiding needs.
Toronto native, Elio Riggillo called the camp an amazing opportunity. The husband and father of three said this is his holiday.
“I am so happy to meet people from all across Canada. From the East, from the West, new friends, old friends, and getting to know people again that I haven’t seen in quite a while. This experience is life changing for a lot of people.”
Mayen-Obregon said the resource centre chose Camp Manitou for it’s inaugural event, because it’s fully accessible and has a variety of activities. Campers got to zip-line, go through an obstacle course, try archery, rock-climb and hang out by the pool.
The goal is to make this camp an annual event every June as part of Deafblind Awareness Month. A Go-Fund Me Page has been set up to help cover the costs for this year’s event and to raise funds for future camps.