Volunteering at a Disabled Holiday | Teen Ink

Volunteering at a Disabled Holiday

January 5, 2009
By Anonymous

This summer, I was a volunteer at a 7 day holiday camp for disabled people in Surrey. Pioneer 2 is an annual camp run entirely by volunteers. The organizers aim to make it as economical as possible for the disabled, charging only 65 pounds for the entire week. Both the disabled people (or the campers as we called them) and the volunteers paid this amount to attend the camp. This year, there were 20 campers and around 50 volunteers.

Through the course of the week, my fellow volunteers were role models to me because they were always willing to help in any way. A camper was assigned two volunteers and so two of us were responsible for his or her needs. However, if both volunteers assigned to a camper were doing the dishes in the kitchen or playing a game of chess with someone else, twenty volunteers, if free, would readily assist the camper. I learned a remarkable lesson: a group of people who don’t feel that their work is a burden, and trust each other to feel the same way, create a productive atmosphere. I never heard anyone say at the camp, “that camper is your responsibility”. In addition, most of the volunteers were very dedicated; some had been coming to the camp for over thirty years. I had initially been a little queasy about helping my camper with his bath and toilet (having never done it before), and many of my fellow volunteers assisted me until I was comfortable. Second hand accounts of people who are committed to community service did not inspire me as much as observing my fellow volunteers did. The commonly used phrase, “spirit of service” had new meaning for me -- I saw it in my fellow volunteers. I wanted to be like them, and as my initial queasiness was replaced by satisfaction, I realized that I could experience the same joy of dedicated service. I will definitely try to attend next year.
I was also struck by the outlook of the campers. They usually needed help for all their tasks, such as getting in and out of bed, drinking, eating, bathing, and going to the toilet. Despite the fact that they had almost no privacy, the campers never complained about their lives. Nor did they display any bitterness towards us volunteers; we were always treated with respect. When we would assist them first at lunch/dinnertime, they would insist that we eat from our plates as well. All of the campers took great joy in playing cards, chess etc. with us and often waded in the swimming pool wearing a life-jacket. They regarded us as their friends. It was incredible to see how well they coped with what many people would consider a great misfortune. Recovering from a rare moment of sadness, a camper told a few volunteers, “It’s true that we don’t have access to some of the simple pleasures of life that most have, such as privacy and independence but then again, as you accept your problems you realize that there are a lot of pleasures available to you, and you just have to go to them. And that viewpoint has helped me be the contented person I am”.

Their attitude was a revelation to me as I have always felt that the speech impediment I have is a major problem and have always been very unhappy about it. However, when I saw a camper without the ability to speak, also deprived of the use of his legs, with a very positive attitude, I realized that my problems were not exclusive to me, and others coped with greater problems with a far better mental frame of mind than I did. I saw that I could take pleasure from all the things I had in life, and not feel sad about my problems.

In conclusion, the camp was an absolutely fabulous experience. Every single person at the camp was part of a big family. We had a lot of fun, such as a trip to Portsmouth for shopping, a party and several long walks. On a personal level, it affected me in two ways (for which I am very grateful). I experienced a certain joy in community service that makes it seem as pleasurable as an outing with friends or dinner at a restaurant with family. Furthermore, I realized that caring for an adult who is not a family member is not the burden it may seem to those who have never had the experience. Finally, this experience made me see my speech impediment from a different point of view. I had been told by therapists, friends and family, “Your stammer isn’t a big thing. Just accept it and move on. You can live a great life despite this”. While I agreed with their logic, I never really believed what they said at the bottom of my heart. But seeing people live so happily despite their disabilities sowed the first seeds of belief in me; seeing it in action made me realize that what my family, friends and therapists had been saying all along was true. This has allowed me to define a mission for my life, unencumbered by the shackles of fear and negativity, to achieve worthy goals, enjoy what I have and care for those who need care.

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This article has 4 comments.

on Jan. 27 2009 at 5:10 am
The author of this piece has written Volunteering at the Disabled Holiday as a social documentation of an experience they had where they expressed, through written reflection, the division of roles played, i.e. campers and volunteers. If I were to seriously edit this piece I would suggest to the author that they change the title from Volunteering at the Disabled Holiday to Volunteering at Pioneer 2. The word holiday is typically meant as a celebration or a remembrance of some sort held in high esteem. I am not so such it works the way it is. I do indeed appreciate the thoughts and time it took to flesh this essay- in-the-rough out. I will start with the opening of the piece.

It may help the reader to have some background information of what Pioneer 2 is, i.e. mission statement, profit or non-profit, ngo, etc. The reader comes to see, that what the perspective of the piece is, is through the eyes of a volunteer. The paragraph above seems to suggest the inner-volunteer discussions that took place internally to the volunteer group, i.e. "the campers we called them" or "we [as in volunteers] were always treated with respect" the reader becomes critical of the piece when the distinctions of us and them are made and highly critical of the lack of mentioning that respect is also extending to the campers.

Working in international aid organizations myself and studying the politics that surround such "helpful" organizations, I've become a bit skeptical of why certain people designate the us and a them relationships as well as into numbers representing symbols of meaning, i.e. 20 of them, 50 of us. It seems to denote a boundary of identity that only extends so far, therefore, creating a class of individuals which I might add, is a bit heavy on the volunteer side of things. In historical ethnographic pieces the self is usually designated from the other, hence creating otherness itself.

Jayakumar said...
on Jan. 18 2009 at 11:07 am
Sriram,you have written so well,because you have written from your heart.Well done.Your write-up reminded me of the saying"..I used to complain to God about not having a pair of shoes,till I saw someone without legs".Keep feeling for others..and yes,keep writing too.

bramesh said...
on Jan. 17 2009 at 11:49 am
Indeed well written. God bless you, Sriram/


Reader 1 said...
on Jan. 17 2009 at 5:44 am
I enjoyed your insights. You have conveyed the power of a unique service experience with candor and clarity.

In your future efforts, include a brisk sketch of one or two people who affected you--that would engage your reader directly.

Well done.