My two weeks of volunteering at COH were most eventful and taught me a lot of things. During my first day, I was apprehensive about not being able to handle the clients with intellectual disabilities. I was afraid, too, that they might not like me.
Befriending these clients is so different from getting to know new friends. What I have learnt is how to really care for and help them. Some of them have their own difficulties such as forgetting to do this or that. It surprised me that in spite of this, they would nevertheless always remember to bring some of their friends to the toilet, feed them even when they themselves are tired. They even give their friends who are upset a comforting hug. Everything is done willingly and without expecting anything in return. This was really what touched me most!
Although their disabilities may not seem right in their outward behaviour at times, that unmistakable human kindness is actually burning bright in their hearts. There is just something special about them which makes them so adorable. They are like children, innocent and lovable. More than that, they can keep themselves entertained either with a piece of torn paper or with a cutting from a magazine. They always make me smile. And I make the wonderful discovery that they truly know the meaning of life! This is something I think each and every one of us, with no disabilities, finds hard to do.
The idea also of asking the clients to buy their own Christmas gifts, print their own wrapping paper and wrap up the gifts was a great one. They were able to gain a sense of achievement because they were able to accomplish the task all by themselves.
All the volunteers enjoyed Disco Night. Not only did they and the teachers dance, but the clients joined in, too. All the clients were really into the Disco Night experience. Everyone was happy, smiling and laughing all the time.
It has really been two fruitful weeks at COH. I really enjoyed myself as a volunteer. Previously, I thought that intellectually disabled people cannot do things on their own. Now my point of view has changed. It makes me happy every time I see them doing so many things that I did not expect them to be able to do. And they did everything with such willingness and joy. I am indeed blessed to discover from them the real meaning of life!
I am really glad to have been given this opportunity to interact with intellectually disabled people. I find them special and unique. They express themselves in so many different ways. Although it is really difficult to understand how they feel and what they are thinking, I know now that what they really need is our love, care and concern. They, too, are people with feelings and desires like us, so we should treat them as normal people and show them that we understand and love them just as they are.
I have learnt many useful and interesting things here at COH such as how to communicate with the clients and how to teach them new things. In doing so, I have learnt something from them. I find myself becoming more patient, more respectful and more appreciative of the efforts of others. I hope to be a better person through all that I have learnt,
It has been a great and memorable experience at COH and I will definitely value the lessons I have learnt. I will always remember the many opportunities of meaningful experiences I have had here. My two weeks were indeed well spent.
Every volunteer learnt a lot from the staff and the clients. It made us realise that there are a lot more things we can do and that no contribution is so small that it cannot be welcomed and appreciated.
First published in News Flip 2000
Editor’s Note: This story about the experience of 11 students from the Youth Volunteer Involvement Programme, (organised by NCCS) still rings true today. These students come from various secondary schools, junior colleges and polytechnics to spend their time organising activities for the clients and interacting with them.