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Camphill Village Memory

smalina's picture

Although working with Sebastian was an incredible, and in many ways life-changing experience, the most directly transformative memory for me took place at a lunch at Kerria House. Sebastian, his house family (a mother, a father, and three daughters), Ina, Natalie, and two older villagers were present, enjoying a delicious meal. Gavin, the house father, was incredibly friendly and respectful towards the villagers who lived in his home, incorporating everyone at the table into the conversation and valuing everyone’s contributions. As Natalie and I learned, he had actually had some experience in working with individuals with developmental disabilities (unlike many of the other house family members around Camphill). 

He started out the conversation by asking Natalie and I what we were studying—I explained that I was really interested in studying gender and sexuality, while Natalie expressed her interest in child and family studies. One of the older villagers spoke up explaining she had no idea what any of that meant. Unused to explaining my major to anyone without experience in the academy, I took this as a new opportunity to really boil it down for myself (and for those at the table)—what was the point of what we were doing, anyway? Spending countless hours each week completing assignments and participating in class discussion around matters of identity, it’s easy to lose track of what it’s all about—beyond the application back to Bryn Mawr, or other academic settings. Even when we could come out of the 360 with a concrete plan for how to help out around campus with matters of identity, what would that mean for people with absolutely no association to the school?

Natalie hesitated (surely dealing with a similar quandary), and I made my first attempt: “Basically, both of us are interested in learning more about identity.” The villager was still confused. “But what’s identity? I don’t think I understand.” This was it—the real nit and grit of what we had been talking about, and what I knew I would likely be talking about for the rest of my life. “Identity—it’s kind of how you feel about yourself. So if you feel like a boy, or if you feel like a girl, or something in between. Or if you have a disability—really anything that you feel about yourself.” She thought for a moment, and then responded, confidently: “So, it’s what’s in your heart?” She had put it perfectly, and in the most simple, clear language possible.

One of the complexities of the 360 was the intersection of emotional work with academic work. So often in college, emotions are brushed aside—students are meant to produce the most polished, objective work possible, and this requires stepping away from emotions altogether. This villager’s comment represented for me the entire, emotion-focused experience of Camphill Village. To see a practical application of what we had been talking about all semester changed everything for me. Suddenly, all the theory didn’t matter so much anymore—and it was for the simple reason that the villagers were (for the most part) treated as human beings. 

The night before we left, when we gathered with the Camphill volunteers and explained some of the theory we had been working on over the course of the semester, the workers were clearly in a different place than we were. When one of the volunteers in my group used the term “differently abled” and my instinct and training told me to question her, I stopped myself. While discussions in Kristin’s class had taught me that this term was erasing of societal injustices, I recognized in that moment that the volunteer was using the term very differently than anyone would have outside of Camphill. For her, the adults with developmental disabilities at Camphill truly were differently abled—because they were living in an environment that did not disable them the way the rest of the world does. Surely, my education in this area could never have been complete without the trip to Camphill, a practical (and hopeful) application of all we had been learning.