31 May morning came, a Vesak Day public holiday. I was up early to reach the Orchid Country Club with my wife at 7.20 am. There was already a buzz of activities. There were more than 100 volunteers listening to instructions on what we were to do to make the guests feel comfortable throughout the programme for the morning.
The Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services organisation was again organising its annual event to bring in the underprivileged people, such as the physically handicapped, spastics children, children with special needs, and the elderly men and women staying in various elderly homes. There were 1,120 guests who were treated to performances, nine-course vegetarian lunch, and a lucky draw. Each guest received a red packet at the end of the event. The programme started from 10 am and lasted to 1 pm and was graced by President S R Nathan and Mrs Nathan.
From 8.30 am onwards, the guests started to arrive in waves. The volunteers in Group 1 were assigned to look after Tables 4 to 15. The organisations we were assigned to were The Society for the Physically Disabled, the Spastic Children’s Association of Singapore, and the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) – Lee Kong Chian Gardens School.
The physically disabled on wheel chairs needed help to be moved from the vans they arrived in to their tables a floor up from the driveway. It was a slow and laborious process to use the only one lift in the building. The volunteers were so enthusiastic and full of energy that this had been what they were looking forward to be of assistance. It took a good one hour and more to receive all the guests and settle them comfortably at their tables before the start of the programme proper.
The special needs of these guests required full attention from the volunteers throughout the morning. The simple tasks of eating, which we took for granted, were for some a slow process and some needed another person to feed them. Guests that wished to go to the toilet had to be accompanied by the volunteers to ensure their safety.
The volunteers were comfortable interacting with these special needs people and I understand that they had been involved in similar event for a number of years now. You will need compassion and patience to give your best for the underprivileged. You must forget who you are in this environment. We are service staff and we should not feel above them. The natural act of folding your arms at your chest level was perceived that you were creating a distance between you and your guests. This action was not appropriate in this environment. I needed someone to tell me before I realise it.
The volunteers stayed on their feet throughout the programme attending to the every need of the guests. At the end of the programme, the process of moving the wheel chair bound guests to the vans was reversed. It took more than an hour before we can move all of them safely into the van for their return journey. The physical strength involved in doing that was tremendous. It was tiring but none of the volunteers showed signs of slacking.
The volunteers could only settle to a simple lunch at about 2 pm. I can see the tired faces but they were quietly tucking in, pensive. The satisfaction of seeing through the event must been felt in their hearts. The volunteers had made a difference for the underprivileged. The humongous tasks of logistics and the detailed planning for this event had been well worth it.