Who Knew Volunteering Could Mean So Much?

by Xingchen (Amber) Chen, CVA student facilitator

I’ve had such an amazingly rewarding experience this past term while facilitating a volunteer group at the Ontario March of Dimes, not only through what I learned from the experience, but also in the positive impact volunteering has had both on myself and on the people that I’ve helped. Working one-on-one with adults with physical and developmental disability who live in wheelchairs, I have developed a deep sense of understanding, respect and support for this vulnerable and marginalized community and especially for Sam*, the particular individual I worked with. I remember how nervous I was the first time I volunteered at this program, knowing that I would be working with people in wheelchairs, a population with whom I had no previous interaction.

Despite Sam’s physical disadvantage, he taught me so much through his blurry speech during our weekly hangout as he shared his personal experience and his hobbies with me, while I helped him write a letter to the government, while walking with him to the mall, or while I called every clinic in Hamilton to find a new family doctor for him. He is an optimistic civil rights advocate for his community. During encounters with people on our walks, I realized not only how oblivious I was to the societal stigma and even hostility towards people with disabilities, but I have also grown huge respect for their strength in fighting for living with dignity despite the unimaginable barriers they have to face. It opened my eyes to see that they are just the same as me and even stronger and more respectable despite their physical disadvantage. It helped me to determine a career wish of helping and working with people in vulnerable populations like Sam.

Moreover, I have realized how important our help is to them. Faced with incredible hardship in life both from physi-cal pain and the often unavoidable injustice and stigma in society, many of them suffer from mental illnesses and des-pair. Some of our volunteer group encountered people whose daily life is entirely spent sitting in front of a TV 24/7 and who haven’t left their room for months. Simple activities such as having a talk, playing a game, or taking a walk in the sun to breathe some fresh air means a lot to them in terms of lifestyle change and even attitude about life. And more importantly, what they often need the most is to have a con-nection with the outside world and to know that they are not abandoned, that they have someone who listens to them, and that they have friends who understand and care about them. During the last day of my volunteering this term, Sam kept on sighing and saying “You are leaving… This is your last day… We get along. Not everyone does. I will miss you,” despite my attempts to reassure him that I will come back in September and I will keep in touch with him during the summer. To both Sam and me, this volunteer experience surpasses a mere giving and receiving relationship but advanced to such a meaningful friendship and understanding and respect for each other. I would have never imagined that the few volunteer hours that I spend every week could mean so much to them and myself. (*name changed)