Social Work

St. Nicholas Home Penang: Lessons from the Blind

st nicholas home penang

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.

St. Nicholas Home Penang

A trainee in basketry

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 penang
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.

St. Nicholas Home Penang

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.

st nicholas home penang

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.

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  • Reply
    March 20, 2014 at 4:33 AM

    Very inspiring post. I definitely agree as it is easily to feel pity for then but yeah we should avoid that because they deserve to be respected above all.

  • Reply
    Peachy @ The Peach Kitchen
    March 19, 2014 at 6:42 AM

    I think it’s a great experience and I wish I could also experience something like it.

    • Reply
      March 20, 2014 at 4:30 AM

      Definitely. It will open your eyes. I hope the world would be more exposed in terms of the plight of the blind so that there will be more passionate people to help them 🙂

  • Reply
    Pauper's Lens (@Pauperslens23)
    March 18, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    I have been to a few schools for the blind in our home town Davao. I was really impressed that they are living as close to a normal life one can ever have. We even played chess. That was a great experience and up to this day i remember those times as clear as it was yesterday. And, I never won a single game of chess to Buboy.(the blind kid who played with me) Cheers!

    • Reply
      March 20, 2014 at 4:28 AM

      Wow! I can’t imagine playing chess with the blind. How did they do it? 🙂 And amazing how good they were! Wish I could try that one too! Thanks for sharing 😀

  • Reply
    March 18, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    Being one with the PWDs for me is very challenging. I wouldnt really know how to act around them thinking I might offend them. Maybe I could also expose myself to them sometimes.:) Thank you for this article because it made me appreciate my sense of sight.

    • Reply
      March 20, 2014 at 4:25 AM

      You’re welcome, and thanks for dropping by! This exposure really has made me grateful for the simple things I have taken for granted. 🙂

  • Reply
    March 18, 2014 at 4:28 AM

    I find stories like these so amazing and inspiring. I love your first point, stop pitying the blind. This should really be a wake up call for everyone that disabilities should not hinder you from being productive and doing what you love. And at the same time those without disabilities should take a cue from these creative, dedicated and hardworking people. If they can do it, why can’t we?

    • Reply
      March 18, 2014 at 4:46 AM

      True. We should really start seeing their potential even before they could see them. If we go on thinking that they will always fail because of their disabilities, they will not strive to break through the barriers of disability. 🙂 Thank you for your insights! 🙂

  • Reply
    Mitch Ryan (@mitchryan23)
    March 18, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    In one of the field trips we had during my primary years was in school for the blind. I saw how creative and resourceful they are. I was amazed at how passionate they were at what they were doing and their positive and pleasant perception towards life in general. After that They have my respect more than ever.

    • Reply
      March 18, 2014 at 4:44 AM

      Yeah! Sometimes when I was with them, it’s like I have no right to complain because they have endured so much already that daily tasks are difficult. I respect them for that 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

  • Reply
    May De Jesus-Palacpac
    March 16, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    Oh wow…I am moved by your heart for these people. I knew these things before but it’s different when it’s coming from someone who’s passionate about it.

  • Reply
    Vix Parungao
    March 16, 2014 at 3:29 AM

    it must be a totally life-changing + inspiring experience to be able to immerse with these people for a few weeks. the sense of sight is probably the most useful sense + i cannot imagine living without it. kudos to the visually impaired people who still manage to productive member of the society even with such a handicap.

    • Reply
      March 18, 2014 at 4:43 AM

      You’re right. I probably wouldn’t know what to do and get discouraged, but they just continue on living as normal as possible. They’re really inspiring 🙂

  • Reply
    Janice / The Roller Coaster Ride
    March 15, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Wow, you’ve mentioned really great programs for the blind. Wish there are similar ones here. So great that you were able to experience this and learned all these important things. These are great realizations to share to other people.

    • Reply
      March 18, 2014 at 4:38 AM

      You’re right, since most of the time the blind people in the Philippines are beggars. Hope more people would be involved in helping reintegrate them into society 🙂

  • Reply
    SlickMaster (@slickmasterph)
    March 14, 2014 at 3:00 AM

    “Try closing your eyes and you will realize how lonely it feels to be blind.” These words says it best! Inspiring!

  • Reply
    March 13, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    Very inspiring post. Kudos to you! goodluck!

    • Reply
      March 18, 2014 at 4:36 AM

      Thank you! Hope more people would consider exposing themselves to NGOs such as St. Nicks 🙂

  • Reply
    2013: Last Look | Greenspired
    January 13, 2014 at 10:02 PM

    […] Interning for a St. Nicholas Home for the Blind in Malaysia […]

  • Reply
    Vayshnavee Shunmugam
    June 7, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    Great article! 🙂

    • Reply
      March 18, 2014 at 4:47 AM

      Thank you! 🙂

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