by Andrew Atang Hidajat (17S03I) and Carman Chew (17A01D)
“I’m Luciana Johann.”
“You’re Diederik Che – uhmm what was it – riko? rika?”
“You’re…you’re…I don’t know!”
Participants of Youth Got Heart (YGH) 2017 sat around in a circle for a dementia simulation activity, attempting to memorise each other’s newly assumed, somewhat confusing identities. Laughter permeated the air of the Indoor Sports Hall as everyone soon realised that the names were designed to be distinctly immemorable. Indeed, experiential learning was one of the main draws of YGH this year.
YGH is an annual event by Raffles Interact aimed to introduce the uninitiated to the world of volunteerism. Unlike last year’s concert format, Saturday’s event featured games meant to put participants in the shoes of beneficiaries, such as the elderly, and children from lower-income households. They were then brought out for actual service at a VWO to apply the knowledge gained.
Activity 1: Elderly
The first game certainly did. It focused on the challenges the elderly may face in their daily lives arising from health issues that come with old age. Using various forms of simulation, such as having to thread needles while having a plastic glove on one hand and three fingers tied together on the other, or filling up a form with Tamil, French — and even Gibberish, participants were given a slight idea of the physical effects of dementia, including arthritis and hearing impairment.
Despite not mimicking the full nature of the ailments, attempting to complete the tasks with instructions being mentioned only once with no repetition, proved challenging as a result.
Activity 2: Children
The next game utilised the same concept to help participants empathise with the obstacles faced by children from lower-income groups. Two subgroups were formed from every group, one representing the less fortunate while the other representing a middle to higher-income household.
While both had 12 minutes to complete a set of tasks, including “chores” and a sheet of “homework”, those who constitute the lower-income group had to complete a “part-time job” involving sorting out beans of various colours into different boxes – clearly designed to delay them while the rich children leisurely played a round of human knot. Well, the rich are different from you and me.
For many, the most memorable game had been the dementia simulation activity. The challenge of recalling the complex multilingual multisyllabic names had brought much laughter, but also allowed participants to experience the common predicament of struggling to remember names that elderly with dementia often face. Through empathising with the elderly on a deeper level, this effectively inculcated in participants the need to serve with greater patience.
Although the activities were not able to capture the entirety of the beneficiaries’ daily battles, it had certainly gotten participants thinking, be it about the need to understand more of the community around them, or about the importance of serving with patience and sensitivity. As Interact teacher-in-charge Mr Eddie Koh, had poignantly reminded: “I hope you remember that to some, these feelings and experiences are more than a game, to them these are realities they go through every day.”
Following the icebreaker games, participants were then able to more practically apply their newly-acquired knowledge through the service segment at various senior activity centres. As it was the first time many were volunteering, nervous participants settled in awkwardly next to an elderly partner at one of the many intimidating tables. Both parties were equally unsure of who they were about to meet, but all the fear melted away once the activities started.
Despite the initial awkwardness, many of them had still managed to share a chuckle during the craft activity as they attempted to recreate the flower craft they’d only learned how to make a mere hour before. When they were done, many of the elderly snickered because their “flowers” had looked more like brooms or toilet scrubs.
Still, it was indeed a meaningful souvenir as it allowed participants to empathise with the physical limitations the elderly might’ve faced, at the same time providing the elderly with a sense of fulfilment from creating such a beautiful product.
Many stories of cheerful, grateful elderly were shared during group reflections: ‘aunties’ who had shot up estatically when they completed their bingo card, ‘uncles’ who cheekily pretended to snip others’ hair when carrying out the craft activity, and elderly who were generally very open to sharing their vast life experiences, providing comfort and perspective for academic-centric students.
It was heartening to see participants patiently assisting the elderly, and hopefully they saw that they too were being helped. Not only did they put our current academic strife into perspective, but they also provided a deeper insight into ourselves.
The service experience had also inspired some to return to volunteering. For Novis Lim (17S03M), who had volunteered regularly until JC started, she felt that it had reminded her why she enjoyed service so much: “Seeing people smile and how you can actually make an impact on them… I’ll probably consider continuing volunteering after A levels.”
As Interactor Lim Ein Le (17S06I) eloquently put it: “The narrative of service we often feed ourselves is that he or she who is great and honourable is one who can solve the troubles of the world: one who can take away the pain, or the sorrow, or the injustice. But we are really just a group of teenagers battling the different forces around us. If we can live from our hearts, look beyond any pretense or perception, and do small things with great love — that in itself is service.”
Should you wish to better understand the experiences of the community around you, in particular, those with visual impairments, then you can stay tuned for more information regarding Interact’s next event, Dine in the Dark, happening on the 27th and 28th of May.