Being at university, I’m surrounded by enthusiastic students who all want to go out in the world and ‘make a difference.’ So many of my friends and peers are discussing big and challenging charitable activities, such as flying out to Thailand or some other far off country to help the community in some way or another. These sorts of ventures would most certainly be life changing and honourable for those who undertake them, I’m even planning to do one myself in the future. However for many, such trips are just not feasible for various reasons (such as money or lack of confidence etc.). So today, I wanted to talk about just one of the many ways in which we can make a difference locally and how these experiences can change both us and those we reach out to.
At age sixteen I was desperate to go out into the world and make this so called ‘change.’ Although, being of school age meant that I couldn’t just hop on a plane to a developing country and help a far away village find water or build a school (excuse the stereotyping). Instead, I began to volunteer in a local centre for children with disabilities and what I found was staggering:
There are so many wonderful and unique children and families on our door step who just do not get the support they need. Even the help of sixteen year old me could make a massive difference.
The centre ran various different types of sessions to help these children, but I especially loved the Hydro Baths. Once a week we would take a small group of children with Down Syndrome, Autism, mobility problems, etc, down to Hydro. The baths are quite literally what they sound like- a swimming pool with disabled facilities and bath temperature water.
The children, accompanied by a parent, could have fun learning to swim in a comfortable pool environment. One of the centre’s volunteers would oversee the session but unfortunately, spent a lot of time just chatting with the pool’s life guard. I couldn’t understand how this volunteer could just sit there and not want to get actively involved with such amazing and inspiring children
During my first session, I became especially taken with a six year old boy, who for the purposes of this blog we will call George. George, without being aware of it, had a severe mobility problem. Whilst only mildly affecting him in childhood, this disorder would grow gradually worse, eventually leaving him bed bound. For now, the Hydro Pool would do him a world of good to help ease his muscle and joint inflammation. There was just one problem… George could not swim.
During my first session, I began to verbally encourage George to take more than two steps into the pool. By the end of this session, I sat, jeans rolled up and legs dangling in the water whilst I tried my best to support George from the edge of the pool. I eventually had the nervous little boy swimming with a pair of armbands.
I asked the volunteer who was overseeing the session if next time I could bring a swimming costume and get into the pool with the children. She looked confused and didn’t understand why I would want to do such a thing, but agreed that I could if I ‘really wanted.’
The next week I did exactly that and a few sessions later I had taught George to swim unaided- even getting him diving for sinkers at the bottom of the pool. His father asked me ‘how long have you been doing this sort of work?’ When I told him I had no background or education in this area he looked stunned. It was at that moment that I realised, sometimes enthusiasm, attention and support is all these kids need.
Later, George’s parents came to see me. They informed me that because of his new found confidence in swimming, he had gained a new confidence in his life in general. The little boy had even joined a child’s modelling agency and been offered his first job. This job involved him having to be able to swim for a television advert.
My presence clearly made a difference down at the Hydro Pool so I encourage you all, no matter what age, background or qualification, to get out there too. Go out and make a splash.