Following up from my previous blog, I have recently come back from my volunteering in Thailand in Pattaya with the Redemptorist School for The Blind. All the students who attend the school are either blind or severely sight impaired. The schools aim is to increase their independence and give the students a mainstream education.
Our job as a group before we arrived at the school was to raise funds for the school which would provide the school and students with equipment an essentials that will enable the students to be more independent for the future. For example with the money we raised we were able to buy the younger children with reusable swimming nappies. Having these allowed the children to go swimming for the first time. Seeing the look on their faces as their feet touched the water was such a wonderful sight. I felt so proud that I had enabled a young child to do something that they would not have been able to do if it were not for the money that we raised.
The school has over 100 students ranging from age 4 to age 20, all of the students have different needs and different levels of eyesight. Being a partially sighted young person and doing something this big to help other young blind and partially sighted people filled me with pride and motivation to do more to help support and help these young students to be more independent.
The week started with a welcome assembly where the school introduced us to some of their cultural music and acknowledged how grateful they were for us coming to spend the next few days with them. Learning each other’s different cultures and introducing them to the equipment that we bought from the money that we raised felt so great from our side as we made that happen. Seeing the students interact with the activities and equipment that we provided them was so wonderful. I felt so privileged to be there and to have this opportunity as a young partially sighted person to come out to Thailand and help these students become more independent.
The following day we had a goal ball match against the school. Some members of our group knew how to play so they played with a few of the students. Goalball is a team sport designed specifically for people with a vision impairment. Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it into the opponents’ goal. The ball is always thrown by hand.
The following day the students at the school also introduced us to bead making as part of the cultural exchange they showed us how to thread beads to eventually make some wonderful things such as key rings and bags. The creativity that the students have was so fascinating to see considering that every one of them is blind or severely sight impaired which would make, making the key rings and bags much harder as they would not be able to see what they were creating.
During the bead making from our end, we thought the head teacher and some of his teachers how to play the board game Monopoly. As this board game is not sold anywhere in Thailand. We had a braille version of the board game to make it easier, however in some ways it was quite hard as the teachers spoke very little English and we knew very little Thai. Me individually only knew two words off by heart Sowadica and cupcunca these words are the female version. The endings of these words are different for males. These words mean hello and thank you in Thai.
During the days that we were at the school, we also ate lunch at the school. Every lunchtime before the students eat they sing two or three songs. Seeing their culture compared with ours was fascinating as in the UK as a society we do not tend to sing songs before we sit down to eat. It was then apparent to me that their culture and beliefs are very different as to that of the UK. As a young partially sighted person, I found it very interesting sharing both our cultures with their cultures. The two cultures are very different and unique.
On the final day, the students and teachers arranged a leaving ceremony for the school to say thank you to us for coming and for all the stuff that we had brought them with the money that we raised. They got us all to stand at the front of the assembly hall as they all sung to us. The lead singer was a blind young girl who had previously won an award for her singing. It was truly wonderful to see how much the visit and the things we brought them meant to both the students and the teachers. As soon as we gave the items to them, they were in use almost immediately.
I cannot emphasise what it felt like to help and support everyone who attended the school in many different ways. I love helping and supporting people in any way I can I thrive on it. So therefore going to the school was so important to me because I felt like I was making a difference to these people’s lives both the students and the teachers. As we were offering them so much to enable their students to be more independent.