By: Michelle Zapata
Kike is a kid with an intellectual disability who is also a faithful annual participant at CreceCamp. He has always been great at communicating his feelings, the problem is: nobody seemed to understand his language, nobody understood him.
Kike is just one of the 7 million Mexicans with a disability. This means almost 7% of the total national population, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, (INEGI, by its acronym in Spanish, 2014).
From this, 25% have suffered discrimination at least once per year (INEGI, 2017), just for being “different”, but are not we all different?. In addition, the exclusion and discrimination from teachers, peers, doctors, and society in general, is not only against the person with a disability but often against the whole family.
“It is not that they do not understand us, is that we do not understand them… If our language is not enough, maybe we should come up with a new one” said Ana Itza.
Ana Itza is a Spanish, and communications teacher at Tecnológico de Monterrey (Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education) high school campus in Guadalajara City, where she is also the Director of the Social Sciences and Humanities Department with only 33 years old!
She has been teaching there for about 10 years now, showing her passion for education inside and outside the classroom.
Ana Itza showed this passion outside the classroom when she could not cope with this discrimination anymore while realizing the need for real inclusion. That was when she decided to found CreceCamp Guadalajara at 23 years old.
Crececamp is a summer camp developed by high school and university students, for children, adolescents, and youth with disabilities. It's objective is to make obsolete the term inclusion. You read it right. “The moment we stop talking about inclusion and we start talking about coexistence, then we will know we achieved equality,” explained Ana Itza.
This summer camp was first started in Mexico City back in 1995, but it was not quite as successful as it has been in Guadalajara since Ana Itza replicated it there.
At first, it started as a high school pilot project, sponsored by the high school itself with barely 12 children and youth participants, 24 volunteer students, and 4 volunteer professors who offered to implement the activities during the summer, and Ana Itza as the leader. Something was missing, though.
So, the year after, she decided to include high school and university students as volunteers and that was when the magic happened. Students started to develop such an empathy feeling and responsibility with this community of disabled children and youth, and got so engaged with the cause, that the majority of them have volunteered for several years in a row.
This year, CreceCamp is celebrating its 10th anniversary, with around 300 student volunteers and 250 disabled children and youth as participants, with a large variety of activities from cooking and art lessons to sports, rallies, and handicrafts, among others.
All of the activities are implemented by volunteer students. They also fundraise through different initiatives throughout the year, such as the annual “Donut Day”; a highly anticipated day by the student population among the campus, where all the profits collected via the selling of donuts, goes to CreceCamp. In addition, they engage sponsors, and even donate, in order to fund all the necessary activities and materials to make this summer camp the best experience these children could have.
Diversity is another key characteristic of this summer camp. The children and youth that participate, come from a variety of socioeconomic levels and have motor, sensorial, mental, psychosocial, auditory or multiple disabilities. Worth mentioning, family members without a disability are welcome too to participate; "in that sense, we are the only truly inclusive summer camp because we receive both groups...," said Ana Itza for another interview.
This empathy movement reflects as well in the parents. Some parents that have the economic resources support the participation of those children who are part of local civic organizations or shelters and who otherwise could not afford to attend the camp.
Empathy, equality, and diversity describe CreceCamp. The interaction and correlation among university and high school students, parents, civic organizations, children and youth with and without disabilities, has made possible to strengthen the social fabric.
Ana Itza’s plan on a medium-term is to systematize this experience in order to be able to replicate this model among other civic organizations around the city. But what about YOU bringing it to your university? What about thousands of CreceCamps around the world? What about one CreceCamp per university? How awesome should it be to reduce the discrimination rates in your community? Start as small as with 1 or 5 disabled children and play with them, talk to them, learn about them, CONNECT with them.
Humanity is not something that can be taught, but it is certainly something that can be learned, and CreceCamp has shown this. Crecamp is way more than a summer camp, it is about reconnecting with our values, recognizing and celebrating our differences through equality. It is about humanity. To advocate and create an impact on disability topics, the only needed thing is exactly that: Restored Humanity.
Gather your friends, family, and school, and bring home the CreceCamp spirit and movement. It only takes YOU to restore humanity starting from the disabled children and youth in your community.