A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
Februar 11, 2011 Volume 41 / Number 4


From Chico to Sharjah

For a slideshow of images,

A group of seven students and faculty from the Adapted Physical Education program received a gift of kindness, friendship, and experience that was described as “life-changing” in the week before Christmas. The group traveled halfway around the world to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), from Dec. 15 to 23 to assist in the 21st Al-Amal camp for individuals with disabilities.

Professor Rebecca Lytle, instructor Marci Pope, and project director John-Paul Gonzalez traveled with graduate students Garret Rieck, Brennan MacFadden, Carli Ross, and Danielle Andrade to Sharjah to work with Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, assisting with their annual camp. The camp serves 40 to 60 campers from 12 to 16 years of age who are deaf or have an intellectual or a physical disability. Campers come from a variety of Middle Eastern countries.

Professor Lytle was invited by Her Highness Sheika Jameela Bin Mohamed Al Qasimi to bring a cohort of students to assist with activities for the campers. Her Highness graduated from Chico State and is currently head of humanitarian services in Sharjah. She runs many programs for individuals with disabilities.

“The Adapted Physical Education field is very limited and may be nonexistent as a profession in many of the countries surrounding the UAE,” said Lytle. The UAE does have a strong sport programs for Special Olympics and the Paralympics. “Our hope was to share ideas and ways to work with individuals who need physical activity but might not be interested in competition—ideas to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles on a daily basis,” said Lytle.

The Chico group planned on running at least two three-hour programs of physical activities for the campers and helping with evening events and other areas as needed. The experience was more than any of them imagined, both in the challenges and the rewards. The primary challenge was the language barrier, but with the international language of love and friendship, said Lytle, it all worked.

Cultural differences sometimes made communication between the Chicoans and their hosts somewhat confusing. Lytle cited differences in an approach to collaborating and problem solving. Their hosts were extremely polite and solicitous to them. At times, they would ask Lytle and the others their opinions about how to go about an event, and then it would become clear that they really knew how it needed to be done. In general, Lytle said, where Americans might jump in with a variety of ideas right away, their hosts were interested in the interchanges, tending not to stress their own strong opinions.

The Chicoans arrived on Friday and expected to have the evening and the next day to rest and help set up for the camp, which began on Sunday and lasted for five days. As soon as they arrived, they were surprised to be put to work, buying gifts, wrapping them, and decorating for the arrival of the campers. As soon as the campers arrived, the Chicoans were busy with as many spontaneous activities as their planned ones. Because they carried sports and play equipment, they could respond to gaps in activity by organizing play. At one time, when people were relaxing after a meal and there was nothing planned, Lytle and her students brought out a colorful parachute, and soon everyone was cooperating in keeping it billowing and afloat. And those not playing were watching.

The campers and staff were treated to a dance performance by schoolgirls, Middle Eastern music, and other cultural events and meals. “We learned and shared so much in our one-on-one exchange about our cultures and about support for individuals with disabilities,” said Lytle. “We were all there for a common purpose: to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. In the process, we improved our own lives.” 

Below, a few of the members of the Chico group describe the deep impact the trip had on them:

This trip was easily the trip of a lifetime. The whole time we were there the people of the UAE treated us with so much respect and wanted us to feel right at home. What the people do for the kids in the UAE is amazing. We were treated like one of their own, which made it so easy to want to help in any way we could while we were there. I learned so much so quickly about the history of the UAE and its people. The kids that attended the camp made a lasting impression on my life. This camp was an experience that I will never forget, and I hope they invite us back for next year!
–Brennan MacFadden, graduate student

The experience I had in the UAE could not be described in a book, let alone a paragraph. This eight-day trip was the most educational experience I have ever been through, from the culture to the different teaching styles there, was no way I could appreciate this country as much as I do now without the full experience. The people we met and got to know were the most kind and giving people I have ever met. When they said, "We want you to feel at home," they truly meant it.
The communication barriers were the toughest part of the trip but luckily in our field the most important part of communication is PLAY and we all knew how to do that! We were able to play and interact with the students and teachers throughout the week to form lasting relationships. There is no way to thank them enough for what I have learned from being a part of the 21st annual Al-Amal camp. I only hope they will think of us when they are forming an attendance list for next year. Shukran!
Carli Ross, graduate student

This trip was a life-changing experience. The Al-Amal Camp provided my peers and myself with memories that will last forever. Every day was special, and every moment left a smile on our faces. I learned a new level of kindness from the people there. A kindness I can only hope to emulate in my own life. I created friendships that will last a lifetime and met individuals who have forever changed my life. If I had half the effect on the people I met there that they had on me, I will feel like I successfully made a difference in someone’s life. I was very lucky to have been apart of such a wonderful trip and hope to go back again next year. Shukran!
–JP Gonzalez, project director

The website for the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services programs can be found at