Camp Kikotimaal was founded in January of 2006 as a program of Zeno Mountain Farm. Since its inception, the camp has been supported by Viamericas Corporation through private donation. In 2014, the nonprofit organization Viamistad was created to expand the camp and the camp is now a program of Viamistad. Under this organization we will initiate new camp sessions to be able to invite more people to enjoy the camp experience and make lifelong friendships.
Sarah Peller, Ph.D., currently serves as Viamistad's Director of Camp Operations. Dr. Peller is one of the founders of the camp along with friends from Zeno Mountain Farm. While studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala, in 2003, Dr. Peller volunteered in classrooms for students with cerebral palsy. She observed the many challenges facing people with disabilities in Guatemala. Special education classrooms were just beginning to appear, but parents had to stay in the classrooms to support their children; there were no assistants. Adults with disabilities frequently remained at home without leaving their houses or neighborhoods at all. Many lived in institutions with full care but minimal stimulation, since their families were not able to care for them.
The first camp session took place in January 2006 and hosted 13 people with disabilities. In 2008, it grew to 50 people, half with disabilities. We have held 9 camps, one per year.
Camp Kikotimaal is modeled on a summer camp program initiated in 1953 in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and still in operation, called Camp Jabberwocky. Campers and counselors return year after year, many throughout their entire adult lives, forming a large, family-like web of personal relationships surpassing typical boundaries of ability. An important aspect of Jabberwocky's model was that no one was paid to work at camp caring for friends with disabilities, and no one paid to attend camp. Parents were discouraged from making donations. Camp's original purpose was to give parents of adults with disabilities a respite from full-time care. However, multiple beneficial effects of each person's long-term involvement in the community became apparent, both on the individual's quality of life and of the individuals and on the larger community's view of people with disabilities.
Beyond the basic human needs of food, water, shelter and health care, philosophers and educators have long identified humans' need for freedom, purpose, recreation, and authentic relationships with others based on mutual enjoyment and sharing. People with severe disabilities, typically dependent on either families or societal charitable institutions for their basic needs, frequently lack opportunities for not only formal education but also mental stimulation, authentic friendships, and self-direction. Outside of parent-child and other familial relationships, sometimes all of the relationships in the life of a person with a severe mental or physical disability involve the delivery of paid services. In Guatemala, special education has only recently become law and is still an infrequent reality. People with severe disabilities are sometimes completely isolated from the world outside of their family home or an institution. Camp provides the opportunity to break out of isolation and dependence to form authentic, long-term friendships with both disabled and non-disabled peers in the context of an annual shared experience.
At camp we strive to create opportunities for new experiences, travel, adventure, friendship bonding, and working together on projects. We play music and sing together, do yoga and sports, play games, create art, and collaborate to create an altogether unique theatrical performance, which we present to parents and the community. We spend a week at the beautiful Lago de Atitlán and a weekend enjoying the beach on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.
Camp Kikotimaal is a magical place for campers and counselors alike, where money does not change hands and divisions of social class, ability, race and culture fade as everyone contributes his or her unique talents and personalities.