Jul 23, 2019

Advocating for Inclusion

Soraya Faruqui loved getting to make slime. “And watching the bunny and petting him,” she said with a big smile. Those were two of her favorite activities at camp last summer, and it was an experience her mother, Tasha, wasn’t sure her daughter would have. 

Soraya, 7, has a gastrostomy tube, which provides food and nutrition directly to her stomach. Prior to camp, most of her extracurricular activities were therapy-based, and Tasha wanted her daughter to have an opportunity to experience camp with neurotypical peers. After attending a summer camp resource fair, she called nearly a dozen places to find a camp for Soraya.

“They all said no because they can’t handle the liability or didn’t have the nursing staff,” Tasha said. “I was infuriated. Looking back, I couldn’t understand why that was the barrier because it’s the way she gets food. I thought it was going to be a challenge she’d face for the rest of her life.”

Though she started to feel helpless, Soraya’s older sister, Yasmeen, encouraged her mom to keep trying. Tasha reached out to Gorman Heritage Farm to explain the situation. To her surprise, they said yes.

It didn’t take much convincing to allow Soraya to attend their camp, said Krystal Gallagher, education coordinator for Gorman Heritage Farm. “Tasha sent directions ahead of time, along with a video, and three of our staff had hands-on training,” she said. “It was a lot easier than I expected. Soraya is very comfortable with it, and once we realized it’s something we can do around other campers and they were OK with it, that made it even easier.”

Tasha said she feels “forever grateful” to the team at Gorman Heritage Farm for giving Soraya a chance to experience camp. It also gave her more confidence to reach out to other camps this year.

 “It’s worth it to advocate and put yourself out there. Keep trying different angles and provide points on why it’s possible,” Tasha said. “Put yourself in the shoes of people having these fears, anticipate those fears and directly address it. Your story matters, and you might find courage in places you wouldn’t expect.”

This summer, Soraya returned to Gorman’s camp. She also attended a cheerleading camp and another day camp with her two sisters. Gallagher said the experience has been positive for staff and helped Gorman set a precedent for welcoming more families.

“I think camp is a beautiful experience, different from school or any other activity young people can participate in,” she said. “The more camps we can have that are more inclusive, the better it is for Soraya and other children as well.”
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