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SGCARES: Through the Eyes of Youths with "Special Needs".

Updated on January 10, 2015
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My Volunteering Background

Back in 2011, due to being disillusioned with work and life in general, I started looking for meaningful things to do and embarked on my journey of volunteering with SGCARES.

SGCARES is a non-profit organisation authorized by the government and modeled after successful organisations such as New York Cares as well as Boston Cares. Essentially, it was conceptualized to enable caring but busy people in Singapore to volunteer as and when they can with a range of Volunteer Host Organisations(VHO) for different sectors.

Over the course of one year, I volunteered over 300 hours in a range of sectors such as the elderly, environmental awareness as well as special needs etc. In particular, I would like to share my experiences of volunteering in a vocational institute catering to teenagers with special needs such as lower IQ, disabilities such as permanent loss of hearing, etc.

In the early stages of interaction with the youths.

The roles of the volunteers were to facilitate in activities such as physical education, outings, sports and interaction. In the first briefing made by the assistant head teacher of the school, our roles were to show the students that the 'outside' world was not different from their and in a sense, serve as a bridge for them to cross over to our world.

When I first started volunteering there and interacting with the students, I felt that other then their obvious disabilities, they were in fact no different from any of us.Those students were pretty much typical teenagers, forming cliques in school, face book addicts, fans of Korean Dramas etc.

It was only after prolonged interaction with them when I found out that much of the perceived differences they had with 'normal' teenagers were socially constructed and forced upon them. It was only then when I realized the true meaning behind the words the teacher said.

After establishing a rapport and entering their cliques.

After my 6 or 7th visit, I became an unofficial friend of the students and was constantly invited into their gossip and chats. As my rapport and interaction with the students increased, I realized that the students of different cliques were beginning to fight and bicker just to have the right to invite me to join them for the activity. This was also compounded by the fact that they started to look to me for approval for the things they do, openly defying their teachers just to hang out with me.

As one of the final year students, Jane said, " Of course, all of us like you, you are like one of the few normal people who care and hang out with us". She continued her speech by saying, "Its quite hard to find people who care and because we are graduating soon; working as waitresses or cooks, there is not much time left."

On another occasion, she slapped another student for trying to pull me away while I was helping another clique and told me happily, " Desmond Kor (endearing term for brother); anyone bully or disturb you, let me know, I will whack them for you!" And as I struggled to explain to her that violence was not necessary for my attention. She recounted to me of how she got bullied in primary school, beaten and teased by groups of students, intent on forcing her to admit that she had a low IQ and was stupid. She had to fight back for survival or die.

After volunteering over 8 months, I gradually withdrew myself from volunteering to prepare for further studies. During my last activity there, I wished Jane the best and told her that she was a true friend and better then many "normal" people around.

Reflections & Conclusion

Ending my volunteering stint there, I felt mixed emotions. As much as I wanted to "bask" in satisfaction for a job well done, I realized that it was a mutually beneficial experience and I had as much to take away as I thought I had given.

If society as a whole could change their views of this group of people who were wrongfully denied and the students with special needs were brought up and treated as "normal" kids, would they be different? Or rather would the peer discrimination that tormented Jane's childhood be less or even removed?

Food for thought.. With the trust they gave freely to me, the authority and influence I had over them was something that scared me as this 'power' comes with great responsibility as Uncle Ben from Spider man would say. I shudder to think if they trusted the wrong people..

Hoping to continue volunteering during my summer holidays:)

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    • Desmondlee89 profile image
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      Desmond Lee 4 years ago from Singapore

      Dear Ladydeonne, sorry for the late reply, been busy with preparation for my exams and thanks for your sweet comments. I feel a little embarrassed to be praised by you in such a manner to be honest.

      I can't agree more with you that helping others is a mutually beneficial experience as you help yourself when you help them and it realigns your life's perspectives. I actually have a hub detailing how my life changed after volunteering but will only finish it after my exams in late May. I truly believe that you are also a special person like the many other friends I made in volunteering who give selflessly:)

    • ladydeonne profile image

      Deonne Anderson 4 years ago from Florence, SC

      Desmondlee,

      Thanks for reminding us that when we are disillusioned with our careers or life in general, the best way to bring ourselves out of the doldrums is to show compassion and to help someone else. Your experience with the youths at SGCares made a diffrence in their lives as well as yours. As you grow older and experience more disillusions, trials, life stressors, etc, you will always come back to this moment and this experience as your anchor. You will know that the key is to get "outside of yourself" and to

      become involved in helping others. During my years of working with children and adolescents as a Mental Health Therapist, I suffered many personal losses and disappointments. Working with children and youths with MR and Mental Illness was a life saver for me as I could not dwell on my own miseries. I was too focused on helping them. Thanks for the reminder. You are truly a special person.

    • Desmondlee89 profile image
      Author

      Desmond Lee 4 years ago from Singapore

      thanks for your comments:)

    • aylsbillones profile image

      Aileen Billones 4 years ago from Naga City, Philippines

      Very interesting to read, thanks for sharing.

    • Desmondlee89 profile image
      Author

      Desmond Lee 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for the encouragement! Will add in more accounts as I go along:)

    • profile image

      Greg 4 years ago

      Interesting to read and know, this world is quite unfair. keep up the good work.