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When Packing for Triform: Fill Your Bag with Empathy and Humor, Leave Pity Behind

It’s been a little over a week since I’ve been at Triform but I didn’t want to post until I got a real feel for the place. The first few days I felt a little lost. It took me a while to learn people’s names, to get use to the rhythm, and to learn the lay of the land. Luckily everyone at Triform epitomizes patience and kindness, and the other day as we were enjoying dinner on the porch and laughing, I realized how quickly I had come to feel at ease and happy here.

Triform, one of many Camphill Communities, seeks to “build a vital community life together with adults with special needs to work towards social, economic, and agricultural renewal” and aims to “provide all community members with dignified, meaningful work, a healthy social atmosphere, and a vibrant cultural, artistic and spiritual life.” That information and more is already readily accessible via the websites for Triform and Camphill (see links above) so what I’d rather share are my more personal experiences so far.

At Triform, each house is composed of a family, people with special needs (or young adults as we call them here), and coworkers. I live at Christofferus along with my house parents, Rebecca and Etienne, who have two kids named Theadore and Anabel. The young adults are Arjun, Nicholas, Eric, Holly, and Rebecca. I am the only coworker living in the house right now (Marius will be coming in a week) but there are other coworkers associated with the house named Judith and Jakob.

Every coworker’s weekly schedule depends on his or her particular skills and interests. For instance I don’t yet have a drivers license so I can’t pick up and drop off day students. Last week, this is roughly what my schedule looked like (and I am sharing this because routine is such an important aspect of life at Triform):

Monday-Thursday:

  • 7:00 AM – 7:30 AM: Prepare breakfast
  • 7:30 AM – 7:40 AM: Morning circle (stretching, singing and bible passage reading)
  • 7:40 AM – 9:00 AM: Breakfast and cleanup
  • 9:00 AM – 12:00 AM: Morning activity
Monday: cooking

Tuesday: working in the pottery

Wednesday: baking

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Thursday: working in the weavery

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  • 12:00 AM – 1:30 PM: Lunch and cleanup
  • 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM: Rest hour
  • 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM: Afternoon activity
Monday: apple picking and working on the Triform newspaper

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Tuesday: gardening

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Wednesday: working in the classroom and biking

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Thursday: food processing

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  • 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM: Prepare dinner
  • 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM: Dinner
  • 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM: Time to socialize (play card/board games, play pool or go on a walk)

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  • 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM: Personal care of Holly
  • 9:00 PM – onwards: End of the day

*Every coworker has one day off a week and mine is on Friday. I’ll post about time off and weekends another time!

As much as the activities themselves are interesting and enlightening, the experiences are all the more enriching due to the teamwork that occurs between coworkers and young adults. I’ve been learning so much even just at breakfast. My first day here, Jakob asked Eric to pass the butter and after a few moments, I instinctively picked it up and handed it to him myself. Jakob said it might take Eric a little longer, but it was better if he did it. Once the meal is over, everyone has a job. Eric puts away the tablemats and napkins, the coworkers clear the table and do the dishes, Holly puts away the chairs and sweeps the floors, and so on. Normally I’m quite an impatient person, but I’ve come to cherish the extra time it takes to do things because it creates simultaneous atmospheres of independence and community between everyone in the house.

I have an uncle who has been at Triform for many years now, and in all honesty before becoming a coworker I used to see him differently. I felt bad my uncle had special needs, I underestimated his abilities, and I didn’t feel as comfortable around him as my other relatives. I came to Triform with a mentality that has since radically transformed, which is what the title is all about.

The following is an anecdote of a time that prompted me to start seeing things differently.Once I was walking to empty the compost with a young adult named Brandon and he seemed as though he was having difficulty getting up this hill, so I gave him a hand. Later during the day we went back and I proposed to go a different way knowing he’d had a hard time. To my surprise, he insisted on going the previous way and managed with ease with a big smirk on his face. He knew I didn’t know him well and assumed I would underestimate him, so he had fun with that. In fact, so many of the young adults here are much more playful than I would have imagined. In the past I wouldn’t have dared, but I’ve realized that teasing and joking around is often welcome.

I’m not about to say that having special needs is easy, but it certainly doesn’t mean that your life will be less fulfilling. As I get to know the young adults I work with, I observe them at their happiest. I’ve learned that Tristen is a perfectionist when it comes to cutting onions. I’ve listened to William tell me “I was looking forward to this all day”: referring to rolling tubes in the garden. I’ve watched Jesse and Alex ecstatic to see each other after summer break and bonding even though Alex isn’t orally responding to any of Jesse’s questions. Triform is a window into a different world, and I am entirely captivated.

The following, although about Beaver Farm, is very representative of life at Triform: click here.

20 Comments »

  1. Dearest Sabrine,
    I am so happy you are having this incredible experience. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. When Catya told me you were going to volunteer at Triform at the beginning of your gap year, I was sincerely moved. It is so incredibly touching to me (especially as someone with a special needs sister) and I dare say that after this experience you will have well surpassed those of your classmates that started at Harvard as far as what they’re learning! I will look forward to reading your posts. Sending you lots of love!

  2. Your proud paternal grandparents, were moved to tears at your beautifully expressed words and wiadom that you show in experiencing a completely new way of life. Your Uncle Dave and his fellow young adults, the caring coworkers and their families, the caring young volunteers from around the world …have enriched our lives ….We have become more caring and open, to do the best we can with our talents, to laugh more and as the Camphill philosophy believes so strongly… realize that each person in the world has unique talents and can lead satisfying productive lives.
    You have helped people in Africa and Romania..and now you are with a “special population” Thank you, thank you (and your parents who raised you) ,for being such a caring , giving young woman…always eager to learn more about the world and the people who inhabit it….Love and hugs G:ma and G’pa

  3. Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any helpful hints for newbie blog writers? I’d certainly appreciate it.

    • WordPress had marked your comment as spam so I didn’t see it until now! Thanks for your comment! I’m still fairly new to blogging myself but my suggestion is to be able to answer the following questions: What is the theme of your blog? What audience are trying to reach? What about your blog makes it interesting/captivating? Although a blog is casual, I think it’s important not to just type out all your thoughts but instead to structure your posts. Hope that helps!

    • WordPress filters through comments so I didn’t see this until recently. Thank you! I don’t follow any blogs that talk about special needs in particular, but I have a friend who has a gap year blog as well (https://emexplores.wordpress.com/) which is really good. Otherwise wordpress recommends many blogs by category, so it’s easy to search around. Hope you find blogs you like!

  4. Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog shine. Please let me know where you got your design. Appreciate it

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