Christian Choong, 15 , was roped into a volunteering programme during his recent school break and spent his summer holidays helping out at a centre for special needs children. He shares his experience with Challenges readers.
Summer holiday started in June and I was about to enjoy three months of doing what all 15 year old kids would want to do – nothing! Until, to my horror, my mom said she had signed me up to volunteer work. Volunteering? No ……!
Center for Special Kids
So I started work at a centre in Petaling Jyaya for kids with special needs. I had no expectations because I had no idea of what I was dealing with. My first day was just getting to know the programme, what they do, what I have to do. When I met the kids, I realised why they are special. Some can barely speak and some of them even find it hard to make sounds. Most of them can’t walk and need help to move around. All but one have difficulty with writing. But to my surprise, they are a lot more capable than what you see.
My Teaching Experience
There were six students in my class. Their ages ranged from 6 to 12 years and all of them face unique challenges, physical and mental. Initially, the kids were shy and didn’t interact with me much. However, during their break, they acted like any other kid of the same age. They like to play games, look at picture books and have fun with each other. But when it came to teaching it was very different. It was hard for me to get them to pay attention and I had to keep cool and patient. Now I know what it feels like to be a teacher!
Hurdles in the way
Second, there was a language barrier.
I can barely speak Bahasa (Malaysia) and my Cantonese was pretty bad too. Sometimes I explained something to them as simple as possible, but they just stared up at me in confusion. I felt like I was from a different planet. Eventually I figured out the only way I could communicate was by using basic English and hand gestures. Despite their age, they could only do 1+1 and 2+1 arithmetic, and read and write simple words. One child, a nine- year old girl, smiled and laughed a lot but I wasn’t sure if she understood me. I began to realise that teaching is frustrating, but then I learnt how to deal with them even as they are different.
And it was getting better
Over the next couple of days, I began to communicate better. I learnt basic Bahasa from flash cards which I was assigned to type. On another day I guided them making papiér mache. I also had better connection with them. One day the teacher brought to school a guitar and I played some cool songs. I also played songs from my smartphone. I think they all love music. On another day, I helped in Physical therapy, like stretching balance, muscle strengthening and walking. Every movement was a struggle for the kids and I realised I’m so privileged; I can do so many stuff.
On the last day I brought my younger brother along with me. The teacher then gave us a tour while asking each of us to push around a kid on a wheel chair. I noticed some older students doing things that even I couldn’t do, like knitting, which means that anybody can accomplish anything within their reach.
The school closed for Hari Raya and didn’t need me anymore. I’m glad my summer holiday was spent volunteering and right now I am back in school. But I do miss the kids and hope I can do this volunteer work again next summer!