On the last day of March, I flew to Malaysia for an internship at St. Nicolas Home Penang. Staying for 6 weeks enabled me to be immersed in an NGO that aims to reintegrate blind and visually impaired individuals.
St. Nicholas Home Penang teaches young children how to live independently (dress up, eat, etc.), trains adults through livelihood programs, and even houses the elderly. I got the privilege to teach English and assist blind employees, but really, they taught me more than I can ever teach them!
Here are some of the “eye-opening” experiences I had in my internship with St. Nicholas Home Penang:
St. Nicholas Home Penang Lesson #1 Stop pitying the blind
The sight of people who can’t see saddened me during my first lunch in St. Nicholas Home Penang There is an instinct to hold their hand as they walk, pass whatever they needed, and do everything for them. But I had to stop my little pity party and think of them as capable individuals. Give them a chance to learn instead of just teaching them to depend on you.
Lesson #2 Think creative
Although there are barriers in activities for the blind, St. Nicholas Home Penang has come up with perky events such as Ride for Sight, a tandem biking event with over a thousand participants.
Other activities are Braille on the Beach, Sports Day, and Walk for Sight & Sound. If you are creative, then you can find many activities that enable the blind to interact with the sighted in a fun and fulfilling way.
- Sports Day: Sighted person running blindfolded, hand in hand with the blind
- Ride for Sight 2013: Thousands of bikers occupy Beach Street
- Burgers made at the Pastry Center
Lesson #3 Ask for help
I am overwhelmed at the amount of support St. Nicholas Home Penang receives. Every day people walk in to donate cash, the food they fished in the morning, their livelihood. Some respond to mails by sending checks and volunteering. Give people a chance to see the plight of the blind and they will be compassionate enough to contribute too.
Lesson #4 Use the power of touch
Try closing your eyes and you will realize how lonely it feels to be blind. No reassuring glances or smiles to behold. Most of the time, I found that the blind express and receive love through touch.
I met a little girl at St. Nicholas Home Penang named Siti who always jumps on me and sits on my lap. I realized that it is their only tangible way of feeling loved.
Lesson #5 Thank God for sight
As I was reading with my students a book on zoo animals, it struck me how difficult it was to explain what a “lion” is to a person who has never and will never see one. Yet the way they smile and even care for me is astounding. I left the home being prayed for, spent time with, and given gifts from blind people who have become my friends.
For the first time in my life, I woke up one morning at St. Nicholas Home Penang thanking God I can see the sunlight.
Reintegrating the visually impaired is a responsibility of the society as whole and not just of NGOs like St. Nicholas Home Penang. It is of mutual benefit to volunteer for these organizations.
I could only wish that more NGOs be built for the blind. This is especially that the common sighting of the blind in the Philippines are on the streets, as beggars. They have more potential than we could ever conceive of, if we only collaborate with them to reach it.