As I walked into the Eastern Christian Children’s Retreat (ECCR) on my first day, I felt nothing but fear and frustration. Eastern Christian Children’s Retreat, is a home for severely disabled young adults, many of whom cannot do simple everyday tasks such as speaking. Never before had I worked with the kinds of people that I would be spending the rest of the summer with. I am lucky enough to be able to say that none of my friends or family members suffer from any great disability. However, for the next few months, my new family at ECCR would be much different from the one at home.
During my time at the ECCR I held the role as a staff member in the recreation department. When I heard that I would be spending my time in this department I found it a bit ridiculous. How were these people, many who could not even move on their own, suppose to color or play games? To be honest, I never looked forward to volunteering because I thought it would be extremely frustrating and I did not believe it would have a rewarding outcome.
I am ashamed to say that even before I began my service, I did not give the residents a chance. Similar to the way Koro treated Kahu in The Whale Rider, I felt that these people were not fit to do the tasks they would be asked to do. I walked in with an attitude that I would have to force the residence to complete a task and neither they, nor I, would get anything out of it. I cannot even begin to tell you how wrong I was. Within no more than a month, I had relationships that would stay with me forever. One resident Jen, whom I would spend almost all of my time with, taught me more than she will ever know. At first, even when I was hesitant to give her a chance, she did everything she could to get involved with the activities I was doing. In a sense, I found that to be a blessing. Although I was stubborn, she never gave up and I was eventually able to gain so much.
Although she was wheelchair bound and could not speak or move her arms, the things Jen was capable of doing were incredible. I never once thought she would be able to do something like color a picture due to the fact that she could not even hold a marker. However, Jen learned quickly and had such determination that she was soon able to color by simply holding the marker between her teeth. I was told by other staff members that when it came time for her to draw a picture, Jen would usually get extremely frustrated and would end up crying. However, they said that when I began my service with her, something changed. She was no longer in need of someone holding her pen for her. Like Kahu, Jen wanted to prove that she could in fact be good enough, and with my time spent with her, she did all she could for her dream to become a reality.
It was not until I was finishing my service that I could truly see the difference I had made. The moment I would walk into Jen’s bedroom to take her to the recreation room, her face would light up. A smile would stretch from ear to ear and would not disappear until it was time for me to leave. Never before had I realized how much a little time spent with others can mean to someone. Each week she would only travel down the hall from her room but she was still able to have the time of her life. When I look back on it now, I feel as though this was truly a rewarding experience. Although I was much like Koro in the beginning and hesitant on giving others a chance they deserved, my service to a girl who truly appreciated it taught me so much about others.