Sunday, February 26, 2012

A little kindness - Service-Learning at Special School

On Saturday, we took 50 of our students to the Hong Chi Pinehill Special School in Taipo to organize a carnival for the children there.  We set up 10 game booths, guided the children to play the games, and gave them small gifts as rewards.  The service went smoothly and we all enjoyed it.

Pulling it off was far from easy.  10+ of the children were mildly challenged (handicapped).  They developed a little slower than other children, hence behaved a little differently.  We need to be patient with them.  Other than that it wasn’t too difficult.

There were also 30+ who were severely challenged. Many could not speak.  Some could not see.  Most had to sit in special wheelchairs.  Many have very little control of their limbs and the rest of their body.  Most of our students had never encountered these situations before.  It was a huge challenge for them to interact with them, and to figure out how to help them play the games. 

Organizing the carnival is actually a project of two of our credit-bearing subjects on Service Learning.  We had spent quite a bit of time to prepare our students before taking them to Hong Chi.  We had explained to them what these children were like, showed them photographs, had them sit in wheelchairs to try to play those games, and discussed with them how to handle some of the challenges.  To make sure everyone knew what they were expected to do, we assigned each and everyone a task - whether it was manning a specific booth, or helping a specific child.  Because we had a lot of manpower, we could afford to assign one student to attend to each of the children.

Even then, they were tense and uneasy at the beginning.  Many times we had to demonstrate to them how to help the children clap to the music, to talk to the children even when there was no response, to try to get them to smile, to help them to grab and throw the balls, ...   To their credit, our students caught on quickly.  Soon everyone was having fun - the children, our students, our teaching assistants, the professors, the Hong Chi staff.

At the debriefing afterwards, it was gratifying to hear from our students: “it felt great when she smiled at me even though she could not talk”, “I was nervous in the beginning but I gradually overcame it”, “I didn’t know what to do but you showed me how to interact with him”, “I realized I had to pay more attention to her than I normally do to my friends”, “I feel I need to look at things from his view point”, ...

We had put in a lot of hard work to prepare for this event.  In the end the effort paid off.  Our students broke through their comfort zone and demonstrated they were up to the challenge. But this is just the beginning.  This carnival is part of the preparation for the service trip to Cambodia in May, when we will face a bigger challenge.  I hope we are up to that one.


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