Monday October 29, 2012
Making volunteer work life's purpose
By SANDRA LOW
Volunteer work may be a part-time pursuit for many, but there are some who have made it their life’s purpose.
STRAINS of Sheila Majid’s mellifluous voice floated out from the main hall of the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM) in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Inside the airy hall, a group of stroke patients are on their feet, following a series of physical movements along with Sheila Majid’s Lagenda.
It is heartening to observe these stroke survivors – men and women of varying ages and stages of recovery – struggling through a movement that would seem effortless to an able-bodied person.
Music has a way of stirring the soul, and each patient stood for a commendable length of time challenging themselves with each new movement.
Hoh Khee Choy, 55, is a firm believer in the therapeutic role of music and perhaps that partly explains why his class is always packed.
After Lagenda, Hoh played a compilation of equally uplifting songs in English and Chinese, to cater to everyone.
Hoh has been a volunteer at Nasam centres in Petaling Jaya and Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, for the past four years. He teaches breathing exercises, tai chi and laughing exercises to stroke patients every week.
When asked how he got involved in volunteer work, Hoh laughs and quips: “It must be divine intervention!”
“I was a very difficult china man, very self-centred. Making money was my priority.”
Well, Hoh has been actively volunteering at the Cancerlink Foundation, teaching qi gong for the past seven years. He admits that it was not easy, especially when he was assigned to the childrens’ department. He would get weekly calls that a child had died.
Hoh shares that when people are about to die, they are truly frightened about what happens after death. When his qi gong skills are not needed near the end, Hoh spends time talking with the patients. They would open up to him, and talk about things that they could not share with others.
Hoh was spotted by Nasam at a corporate workshop he conducted, and was asked if he could do something for stroke patients.
Sixteen years ago, Hoh who had been smoking for 20 years, decided to quit smoking and his weight ballooned. He then took up qi gong for health reasons and has been hooked since.
When he was 40, Hoh felt a sudden urge to pay back society. As a freelance real estate agent, he had flexible hours and made time for volunteer work.
“When I first came to Nasam, I realised that stroke patients were not sick people but they needed to exercise and move around, otherwise their muscles would weaken,” he says.
When Hoh started teaching at Nasam, he had a group of 20 stroke patients. After six weeks, he saw what they could do, how long they could stand, and he came up with something achievable for them.
“It makes my day when I see a 20-year-old stroke patient who was unable to move, making progress after doing the exercises,” says Hoh.
For those who are thinking of volunteering, Hoh has this advice: “Don’t think too much about it, just do it. You can talk to the person even if you can’t teach something specific. You will be directed to do something good with your time and things will fall into place.”
Hoh, a Buddhist, derives immense satisfaction from his volunteer work as he feels “spiritually connected with fellow humans.”
“Yes, I’ve learnt that the world is not just about me!” says Hoh with a parting wink.
After a decade of working as a human resource consultant, Tin Hooi Ping, 40, decided she needed a break from corporate life.
Tin, who has a bachelor of arts degree majoring in linguistics. has always been interested in speech therapy. When Tin was waiting for her SPM results, she used to help out at an autistic centre in Jalan Pahang, Kuala Lumpur.
When Tin took a break from work, she learnt that Nasam needed the services of speech therapists. So Tin turned up twice a week to help out and observe the speech therapist at work.
“Each patient has their own particular needs, so we do exercises tailored to their needs. Someone with a weak voice may need vowel stretching to build up volume. For some, it’s pronounciation,” she explains.
Group sessions for speech therapy are held when the patient’s needs are similar. This gives them support and some friendly competition.
Tin finds great fulfilment in volunteering at Nasam. “There’s this drive inside me to help others. I would like to explore this area more seriously. At some point, I may need to go back to work. When the time comes, I may look for a job that allows me to do volunteer work.
“I have learnt a lot from the stroke patients. It’s fascinating how our brain works. One patient was able to read words but when they were presented to him in Scrabble, he could not piece them together. You don’t realise your blessings until you see a patient struggling to say a simple word. It’s a humbling experience.”
Tin recalls with excitement her work with a particular patient.
“She had problems vocalising ‘B’ and ‘M’, so ‘boy’ would sound like ‘moy’. Then a few weeks later, she got it right. It was a thrilling moment for her – and me!
“For patients who are not motivated, I try to find ways to trick them into talking. We need to look for that trigger to get them to interact. Patients know it when we are trying our best to help them, so they will try to please us, too.
“People volunteer for different reasons. It is important to pick something close to their heart. When I was working, I had a superior who volunteered at a baby hatch. It became our escape from work, so it must be something of interest to you. For her, it was single mothers and babies,” Tin explains.
Doris Oh, a Nasam volunteer, noticed that stroke patients tend to be reserved and shied away from talking with anyone.
“Some of them would push your hand away from the part of the body affected by stroke. What I learnt was that they only wanted to exercise the good side of the body,” she explains.
Oh, who is in her fifties, understands that stroke patients do that because they do not want to acknowledge that a part of their body is letting them down. In cases like this, she works at becoming a friend first, and then try to encourage them to work on the part that needs physiotherapy.
“There was a patient in his 50s who was very depressed when he first came for physiotherapy. He couldn’t move one of his legs, but after weeks of cheering him up and getting him to exercise, I saw some improvement and he started walking better,” says Oh.
She remembers another lady in her 60s who was always accompanied by two maids and dropped off by a driver.
“She was very bad tempered and would sit down and refused to do anything. I managed to get her to do some exercises. After weeks of physio, she was happy that she managed to walk. It is so rewarding for volunteers to see improvements in the patients,” says Oh.
She was quick to point out that stroke patients who accept their condition and work really hard to recover, will see better results. They also make things easier for volunteers.
Oh has been a regular volunteer at various non-profit organisations since she was 16. In school she became interested in learning about first aid and nursing, and joined the Red Crescent Society. Outside of school, she joined St John Ambulance of Malaysia (SJAM) as a volunteer and underwent basic training on first aid and home nursing.
Oh is as adventurous in her volunteer work as she is in the jobs she had taken on. She has worked at various jobs in hospitals, clinics, supermarkets, hotels and offices.
In 2002, when Pure Lotus Hospice of Compassion – which provides care for needy cancer patients – was opened, Oh volunteered part-time for a year. She has also served under Befrienders, a non-profit organisation that offers counselling for those who are depressed, suicidal or in despair.
In 2005, Oh started volunteering at Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital by helping out with the care of cancer patients.
“I volunteer because helping people who need help most makes me happy. Aside from compassion, your heart must want to help people without expecting any gains for yourself,” she says.
Oh joined Nasam as a volunteer in 2007.
“I was familiar with stroke and curious about how one could help stroke patients recover,” says Oh.
“At the centre, I help stroke patients with physiotherapy exercises, especially those who are not accompanied by a maid or carer.
“Now that I’m retired and have more free time, I enjoy volunteering as it helps fill up my day in a useful way. In fact, when I’m not working or doing anything, I feel really down!” Oh admits.
Having been a volunteer at so many organisations for most of her life, what does Oh wish for?
“I wish more people would volunteer because there is not enough help to go round. I hope, too, that corporations will continue to come forward with financial support so that facilities can be improved,” pleads the seasoned volunteer.