[Featured photo: Volunteers and beneficiaries at our first purple outing, Build-a-Bear Workshop]

 

Looking back on 2016 when I first saw the email recruiting organising committee members for SMU Challenge 2017, I never expected that I would learn so much from the enriching experiences in SMU Challenge.  Growing up, I came to greatly appreciate volunteer work and the significance of supporting causes to help those in need and promote a better society for everyone to live in. As a result, I was drawn to this project as I wanted to interact more with people from the special needs community and learn how to better understand and support them. With this, I began my research to find out more about the SMU Challenge.

I discovered that SMU Challenge was an annual university-wide community service project where SMU students, staff, faculty and alumni would come together to raise awareness for the special needs community in Singapore. Through a series of Purple Outings, SMU volunteers would interact closely with the beneficiaries, allowing them to forge bonds while learning more about their needs. The project would then culminate in a finale walkathon event, Walk for Good.

After joining the team, we met up with the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CSCDC) to discuss our collaboration and which beneficiaries we could lend our support this year through their Purple Outings initiative. After much discussion, we decided to focus on three main beneficiaries for 2017: Lighthouse SchoolMountbatten Vocational School (MVS) and The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf).

While brainstorming for activities that could be conducted during our Purple Outings, we faced many challenges. But the biggest one of all – many of us had very little interaction with youths who were blind, deaf, or intellectually disabled. We were uncertain of what activities would be suitable or how receptive our beneficiaries would be to activities we came up with. In the subsequent weeks, my team made it a point to visit the various beneficiaries, where we met with the people in charge to better understand our beneficiaries’ needs and how we could effectively address them.

In particular, I recall my visit to Lighthouse School where my team and I were warmly welcomed by the teachers there. The school had a rustic charm and peaceful environment that fondly reminded me of my own primary school. Following the meeting, the teachers took us on a tour around the school. It was truly an eye-opening experience to see what the learning experience is like for the students at Lighthouse School. It was also the first time in my life where I was allowed to try out a braille machine. I remember looking at the Primary 6 Science textbooks written in braille for blind students and wondered in amazement how the arrangement of dots could create an entire system of reading and writing.

In June, we were privileged to have SADeaf visit SMU to give our volunteers a sign language workshop. Here, Ms. Wong Ai Ling shared with us about the Deaf Community in Singapore, as well as basic sign language. Through the workshop, I realised that hearing people often take for granted things such as subtitles or captioning in videos, not realising how important such components are to the Deaf community in helping them understand information. It is my hope that through greater awareness, something as simple as closed captioning would become a standard for all videos for our friends in the Deaf community.

 


Horse-rising at Gallops Stable

 


Pastamania Pizza-making Workshop

 

Between July and August, it was finally time for our team to put all our months of preparation work into motion through the Purple Outings, which included activities such as Build-a-Bear workshops, horse-riding, and visiting a trampoline park. I was very nervous, especially the night before the first Purple Outing with Lighthouse School. Having worked with primary school students in a previous community service project, I knew that a large group of primary school students could be rather rowdy and difficult to control. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the students from Lighthouse School who were well-behaved and attentive, even though we had to communicate through an interpreter who would sign instructions to them.

Without much experience in Sign Language, I also learnt to be creative and tap into other forms of communication, such as through a mix of written words, drawings and hand signals. While interacting with our beneficiaries, I learnt about their own hobbies, their dreams and aspirations. It was an enlightening experience as I realised that each and every one of these students had their own amazing and constantly developing life story.

In that moment, I learnt from them what it truly means to ‘listen better’.

On 9 September 2017, we will be celebrating the culmination of our 9-month project through our finale, Sport-A-Cause. Unlike previous years, this year our finale takes the form of a charity sports event, where the SMU community and members of the public can come together to support a worthy cause and raise awareness for the special needs community in Singapore either through running or cycling. Through the finale, we hope to raise funds for the upgrading of facilities and programmes for students at MVS.

Before our project comes to a conclusion, I would like to express how eternally thankful we are for the support that SMU Challenge has received from the SMU community, as well as the various sponsors who have kindly supported our cause. I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with my team and I sincerely hope that others would be inspired to make a positive change in our society through our project.

Want to take part in SMU Challenge’s finale, Sport-A-Cause 2017? Click here (www.smuchallenge.com) to find out more! Alternatively, do support our online crowdfunding platform at www.give.asia/SAC2017.

 

Faith is a third-year Accountancy and Business Management undergraduate who believes in making the world a better place, paying forward one kind act at a time.

 

This article was originally published on The SMU Blog.

 

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