This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to take 21 deaf children on a camping trip into the wilds of Japan. It all started with a chance conversation.
While touring around Japan on my bicycle, I was stopped by a junior high school student and asked in sign language, "Where are you going with all that gear?" Little did he know, we both were deaf, and this young, wide-eyed kid went on to confess, "Adults around here say it's useless for deaf children to have dreams."
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I began to think of ways in which I could help deaf kids chase their dreams. Eventually I thought it best to help show these kids the fun to be had in nature. From there, preparations began for this unique event which has children and staff enjoying the great outdoors from dawn till dusk—completely in sign language.
This year I brought the tents I used during my travels. The kids promptly chose their shelters and set about pitching them on their own. Hammocks were drawn between trees, dancing and swaying to the point of collapse. Kids who should have been tired were waking up counselors at 4 a.m. to greet the rising sun with bright smiles.
The big event this summer was canoeing. We used a sign language interpreter for the instructor. Kids took in the signs, practiced paddling and learned the basic techniques to stay afloat. While they were at first intimidated—or perhaps just lacking some confidence, as each child would shove off, others would become more daring.
In the end, each had set sail by themselves, at which point the sun shone down upon these young faces brimming with confidence, and the faces shone back. Each paddled about the lake, showing no intention of returning to shore.