I had always been pretty cynical about volunteering, having seen friends reluctantly sign up to read to the elderly or clean the local youth centre simply for something to put on their CV.
If I am totally honest I had much the same motives when I applied for my volunteer experience, that and the warm fuzzy feeling I might get from ‘doing something good’. However, my mixed motives proved to mean nothing compared to the lessons I learnt from my week’s volunteering.
In the summer of 2010, I went on a week long canal boating holiday with the deaf blind charity Sense. The three girls we were taking on the trip had varying degrees of sight and hearing impairments, from mild to severe.
Having never worked with handicapped young people before I was thrown in at the deep end. Everything seemed like a challenge; my greatest concern leading up to the trip was how I would introduce myself when the holiday-makers arrived. After all how do you make yourself known to somebody who can’t hear or see you properly?
Quickly I realised concerns like these were wasted, the three girls were incredibly forgiving of any mistakes you made or the moments of ignorance we showed. Ultimately I learnt on the job and relished in it, I picked up quite an extensive repertoire of Makaton sign language and even learnt how to steer a canal boat.
The rare times when you had five minutes to yourself you realised how truly remarkable the girls were. Their enthusiasm for all things canal boat-related was unwavering and the ways in which they adapted to deal with their unseen, but ever changing surroundings was extraordinary.
I would like to think we gave the girls a week to remember, while also (and perhaps most significantly) giving their parents a week of respite from the demanding full-time job of caring for a handicapped child.
Would I do it again? Yes! Sense is a fantastic charity that works tirelessly to provide these memorable holidays for unique individuals and give their families a much needed break.