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Travel Story by Amanprit Johal

  Deaf Camp near Mount Kinabalu

Deaf camp participants

Never in a million years did I think that I would be running a deaf camp, especially in a foreign country and interacting with kids isn’t really my scene but I am glad to say that I was mistaken.

All of us were raring to go, in our deaf camp T-shirts, and it was quite a long bus ride, up and around the mountains to the isolated deaf campsite on top of a hill in Ranau. The main outdoor area looked directly out towards the scenic Mount Kinabalu, which is literally on its doorstep.

It was absolutely freezing (well to the kids) when we arrived, as the camp is high up in mountains, so it was a bit strange to see everyone wrapped up in warm clothes. Kirsty and I were a bit unprepared on the clothing front. We had concentrated so much on organising the games and props that we packed at the last minute and only brought a small bag each. In contrast, the kids all had huge bags bulging with stuff. So Kirsty and I were freezing in our one and only thin jumpers, while they all had their hats and gloves on! Then again, I thought to myself, ‘Hang on, if this weather feels like a typical cool spring night back in the UK then what would the kids be like if there were winter conditions?’

We started straightaway after lunch to get into the swing of things and if anyone was late, we made them do press-ups. It was explained that the motto was there is ‘No ‘I’ in a team’, and how ‘teamwork’ was the core mantra of this camp and that they would be awarded points for this. We ran through the ‘Everywhere we go’ camp song once previously at the school and they loved it so had they the moves sussed straightaway when they were asked to perform the camp song.

I took up Martine’s idea of giving each group a name - the Elephants, Lions, Orang-utans, Tigers and Zebras. The teachers were really enthusiastic as well, which really helped and the kids were up for anything. They never ran out of energy or complained once, even at eleven at night!

We set a task for each group to baby-sit an egg throughout their stay at camp. They had to take turns to take care of their egg as it had to be with them 24/7. They did everything to protect their egg; you name it, they did it. Names and decorations were given to their egg. Unfortunately, the Orang-utan team’s egg didn’t make it to the end. It was dropped outside and I’ve never seen such an episode. The poor girl responsible for the egg at that given time burst into tears and was distraught! We had to reassure her and that it wasn’t the end of the world. It was only an egg, but I think they all got rather attached to them. Looking back, you have to laugh about it.

In the evening, time was set aside to share our experiences and stories. To avoid interruptions I gave each team a ping-pong ball and the person holding it is the only one who is allowed to talk. They had to tell us about their funniest and best moment and this resulted in some toilet humour that had us all cracking up.

Just before bedtime, I informed them that they would have to be lined up in their group in the main outdoor area, ready to do the 6.15am morning exercise. To my surprise the next morning, the early birds were already in line shortly after 5am just to get points and to admire the majestic sight of Mount Kinabalu. You could see for miles over mountains cloaked in clouds.

Also, the Muslims had to do their 5am morning prayer. They couldn’t wear their headscarves while carrying out the camp activities, so they wore bandanas instead.

After breakfast, we all headed out on a fantastic 3km jungle trek. The kids were really getting into it; first we had to tackle going under an army style tunnel in the mud, then through the jungle, which was quite muddy. We found ourselves sliding down vertical hills, having to get across a crevice over two horizontal poles, climbing a vertical mudslide using ropes, then down the other side. The kids, especially the boys, were great at giving a helping hand, especially if you were about to slide down into a pile of mud! Brilliant teamwork was shown, not just in groups but also as a whole.
Several hours later we emerged back at camp, caked in mud, with branches and twigs in our hair, and nearly everyone had big smiles on their faces. However, I soon discovered that two girls had cried the whole way as they hated it but with the help of others, every single person completed the jungle trek.

Animal face painting took place next; the kids painted each other’s faces according to their group’s name. The tigers looked very impressive. Seeing that I was responsible for this activity, I was a little apprehensive that the kids would end up getting a rash on their faces. So I told them that if any itching or stinging occurred that they would have to wash it off immediately and luckily, no-one’s face came out in a rash.

A brief summary of the various games played were:

• Acting out letters - The kids had to act out the letter or word that I signed to them. The quickest to complete the letter won (they had to lie on the ground and make the shape of the letter).
• Over and under ball game
• Spider roll race
• Egg (well, a ping pong ball) and spoon race
• Sack race
• Splash game - The group had an open bottle full of water with a ping pong ball balanced at the top. They had to carry it round one circuit of the camp, without spilling the water or having their ping pong ball stolen by the teachers.
• Tangled circle game - Co-operated well as a team.
• Plank Walking - It started out well, but then some groups were in such a rush to move that they all fell like dominos.
• Magic carpet - Standing on a large piece of paper, they had to turn the paper over without taking their feet off it.
• Clothes race - One member of the group had to be dressed by the other members in a relay race game. It was quite amusing to see the boys wearing maternity clothes and scarves around their heads - they loved it though, and even gave us a catwalk at the end. Hilarious!
• Spider’s web - Kirsty and I created a man made spider’s web outside, where the teams had to pass each member through the web, without touching the rope.
• Back to back water game - Resulted in a great water fight.
• Chocolate game - Had to finish eating a chocolate bar with their hands tied together and use a knife and spoon.

On the last night, we had an appetising barbecue that was followed on by roasting mushy marshmallows on satay sticks. This was an exciting experience for them so much so that they kept coming back for more with more than enough squashed up marshmallows on one stick!

A formal closing ceremony took place before we left, for the Special Education director and camp principal. Many thanks go to the Special Education Department for covering the camp costs (the kids only had to pay RM10, about £1.50). The ceremony began with a few speeches, votes of thanks, and then the kids received their certificates, individual and team prizes. The ceremony came to a close with the ‘Deaf Camp Song’, which the kids really love.

The kids said their farewells to the canteen staff and out of the blue they became tearful. I thought ‘Huh? You’ve only been with them for a few days’, then I reminded myself these kids really made an effort to communicate with the staff and that they have never come across such an amazing happy bunch of well behaved kids. It was an unforgettable experience.

Click on photo to enlarge

Mount Kinabalu  Jungle walk  Face painting

Date Submitted: 27 Feb 2008

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