A few years ago I spent time in this world which was very new and un-discovered for me. It is a world that beats with its own rhythm and is directed by its own rules. This world is called Camphill. As my 3-months stay here was very inspiring for me I decided to mention it.
The Camphill Movement is a community which was established by Karl Kőnig in Great Britain in 1940. Since then, it has spread considerably and now operates successfully in other European countries, Southern Africa, North America, India and Vietnam. The main idea is to integrate the mentally challenged into ‘normal’ society. In contrast with many institutions for the mentally challenged, people with disabilities and complex needs share with the other inhabitants not only a dwelling, but also the household tasks and they also work in various workshops and receive government benefits. Camphill does not have an institutional ‘feel’, but it cannot be compared to a sheltered housing either. Basically, it is a small village where you can find various buildings which may be up to several hundred meters apart, which include workshops for weaving, pottery, bakery, woodwork etc. plus a garden, fields and a farm operating on organic principles. An important guiding principle of Camphill is to live in conformity with nature. Even though the inhabitants of Camphill have equal fundamental rights, a certain hierarchy is in operation. Here is a simplified description of persons you may meet at a Camphill. Firstly, the ‘residents’; these are mentally challenged people, but in this community there is a tendency to avoid this expression – so they are simply residents or villagers. Villagers vary in age between Camphills. At Clanabogan, which is presented in my documentary, they are all over 25. The persons who manage the operation of an entire household are called the house coordinators. They are people who has decided to spend their life at a Camphill. Often they will have their own family there but will also have living with them 2 – 6 handicapped people, depending on size of their house. Temporary inhabitants are called co-workers. These are usually young student volunteers from all over the world, who come into this environment for a limited period of time in order to help people with mental + developmental challenges, try a new way of life, gain experience and improve their English, which is officially the only language of communication. Co-workers come for periods from one month to one year, but there are also cases when people decide to stay for good. It is unpaid volunteer work, although co-workers get pocket money, a travel expense contribution for leisure days, and free accomodation and food. At every Camphill there is a food store (mainly organic products), which is constantly added to according to local inhabitants’ needs. There are general routines for the community – waking up at a certain time, shared breakfast, tea-breaks, lunches and dinners and common work at workshops. Having overcome the initial shock of the new environment, a co-worker usually comes to love the place; to know the villagers´ world, their sense of humour, weaknesses, peculiarities, and to find a way of communicating with each of them.
These facilities have a long tradition in England and other countries, but not many know of their existence. You tend only to hear about them from people who have worked there. Reasons why co-workers stay at a Camphill vary widely to begin with. They may not always have strong social feelings. Often they simply want to see a new country, learn self-sufficiency, meet new friends and improve their language skills. However, during volunteer work, everyone discovers a much deeper meaning to it. A documentary film is the ideal way to show people the opportunity which Camphills offer and I intend to use the example of my personal experience to strip away certain taboos, to show the pros and cons of such work, and to present selected residents who can show us their world.