Before this summer, the small South Pacific island of Guam was home to roughly 200,000 people, an abundance of brown tree snakes, and a vast coral reef ecosystem. It did lack one thing, though: a deaf camp for kids. Goshen College students Heather Zimmerman and Naomi Webster saw this void in Guam’s deaf community and decided to fill it.Zimmerman, a recent Goshen College graduate, had wanted to create and organize a deaf camp for several years but didn’t have the resources until last May. It wasn’t until Zimmerman combined her vision with Webster’s organizational skills and the support of other local individuals and groups that the week-long Deaf Community Day Camp finally became a reality on June 6.
According to Zimmerman, the goal of the camp was to create a “linguistic environment that catered to the socialization aspect of the deaf culture.” It was designed to allow deaf kids to benefit from interacting with children similar to them.
Although Zimmerman and Webster had no prior experience setting up deaf camps, they were fueled by their passion to create “a signing environment” and inspire those around them.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the deaf camp was the impact that it had not only on the five children who attended it but also on the people of the surrounding community. The camp taught community members that “deaf kids can do anything too,” said Webster.
The camp—located in Guam’s Southern Christian Academy, just a few feet from the beach—became the source of integration and inspiration that allowed children to “understand the deaf culture and not see deafness as a disability,” explained Zimmerman.
The growing sense of community was also reflected by the involvement of various individuals, including Zimmerman’s brother, students from the local community college and two women from the Oasis Empowerment Center, a rehabilitation center founded by Zimmerman’s parents.
Like most summer camps, Deaf Community Day Camp’s daily activities included various games but with a unique emphasis on ASL art and literature targeted specifically for deaf culture. Next year, both Zimmerman and Webster hope to extend this camp from one week to two and get more children and volunteers involved.
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