Nursing student Elizabeth Lee remembers when she was at a loss for words when dealing with a patient – quite literally.

The 20-year-old, who has just graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic, remembered when she had to attend to a patient in 2021.

He was deaf and couldn’t understand the post-care instructions that she was giving him at first.

That prompted her to learn some basic sign language to interact with the patient, which opened her eyes to working with the deaf.

“When I saw how joyful and grateful my patient was after our interactions, I was inspired to do my part to help the deaf community,” she shares.

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According to SADeaf (Singapore Association for the Deaf), there are an estimated 500,000 people in Singapore with hearing loss. Due to the difficulty of communicating through sign language, many people tend to shun from interacting with the deaf community.

However, this is where associations like SADeaf and volunteers like Elizabeth are striving to make a difference.

“I believe that every action of kindness can have a really big impact on others, which is why I aim to give my best towards helping the deaf community”, she tells The Pride.

Shortly after, Elizabeth found out about SADeaf when it reached out to NYP’s co-curricular club to recruit a first aider. No prizes for guessing who volunteered!

Elizabeth typically spends her weekends volunteering at SADeaf.

To Elizabeth (left), volunteering with others serves as a form of productive leisure. Image source: Elizabeth Lee

“Volunteering at SADeaf not only helps to take my mind off the busyness of life, but I am also making a difference in someone else’s life,” she tells The Pride.

After graduating in Feburary 2023, she has made it a point to volunteer as much as possible while waiting for her university posting.

Events of joy

Elizabeth’s first event was Walk with the Deaf, a walkathon organised by SADeaf last November. She was deployed as a medic to look after the safety and well-being of the participants.

The walkathon was to raise awareness and advocate for the integration of the deaf community into society. Image source: Elizabeth Lee

Subsequently, Elizabeth got more involved at different events in varying degrees. But the one constant is the sense of fulfilment and joy she derives from contributing.

Her most memorable event was a Chinese New Year gathering this year. Through festive activities such as tossing yu sheng, games and arts and craft, she and the other volunteers were able to connect with the beneficiaries.

The communication barrier did not deter the volunteers, as they came up with textural and sorting games which was enjoyed by all.

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Despite her limited command of sign language, Elizabeth was able to interact and share her life with an elderly couple who were both deaf. At the end of the session, the woman even gave her with a handmade keychain.

“It was really heart-warming to get to know all the beneficiaries and find out about their stories of resilience,” says Elizabeth, smiling at the memory.

Another event that left a lasting impression on her was Wash for the Deaf, a charity carwash event in May this year. Determined to raise as much funds as possible for the deaf community, Elizabeth went hands-on to clean the cars, something she had never done before!

Although washing cars was something new to Elizabeth, she still had plenty of fun doing so for a good cause. Image source: Elizabeth Lee

There was also carnival with food and game booths helmed by volunteers, including those who were deaf. Elizabeth even got to learn local phrases in sign language from one of the booths!

She also managed to forge bonds with her fellow volunteers, all of whom come from different backgrounds.

“What brought us together was our common goal – helping the deaf community,” she shares.

Elizabeth added that the events have received plenty of positive feedback from the participants. Although most of the community struggle with hearing difficulties, they are able-bodied and capable and the events that they attend give them a sense of belonging and interaction.

“However, more than just the fun and people, it is important to get to know and connect with the beneficiaries personally,” she explains.

Besides helping at events, Elizabeth also goes to SaDeaf at Mountbatten Road every week to recategorise books at its library.

Crossing the language barrier

Despite interacting with many beneficiaries of different ages, communicating in sign language is still not easy for Elizabeth.

However, she is getting the hang of it.

“Initially, I was concerned about overcoming the language barrier. I did not understand many of the words that they were signing, and struggled to keep up with the pace at which they were conversing,” admits Elizabeth.

To communicate fluently with the beneficiaries, Elizabeth committed to study sign language. Image source: Elizabeth Lee

This is where Elizabeth is grateful for the beneficiaries who guided her, teaching her how to sign many key phrases. She also made an effort to learn and practise the language online.

“Even though I can only sign at a slow pace, they are still very understanding. Sometimes, I still have to use the Notes mobile app to write my messages,” laughs Elizabeth.

For a better world

Volunteering isn’t a one-way street, however, her interactions with the deaf community have taught Elizabeth many key life lessons.

Their ability to constantly remain optimistic and solve daily problems that most people take for granted is one example. For ease of communication, a patient even taught her how to recognise her name Elizabeth in sign language so he could address her appropriately.

She is also particularly impressed by their resilience, as they refuse to let their circumstances affect their outlook on life. That never-say-die attitude has not only rubbed off on Elizabeth, but also the rest of the people she volunteers with.

“I can apply these values to other aspects of my life, which helps me grow as a person. As youths, we don’t have a lot of money, but what we do have is time. By giving what we can, we receive much more than we give,” she explains.

Elizabeth looks up to her SADeaf mentor Sue Lim (left), who oversees volunteer events. Image source: Elizabeth Lee

Elizabeth says she is inspired by a quote from writer Leo Buscaglia: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

She often encourages those interested in volunteering to start by identifying a cause that they are passionate about. From there, they can channel that desire to touch the lives of others.

Volunteering has helped to shape and bring happiness to Elizabeth’s life – and she wishes to share that positivity with readers of The Pride.

“Your reasons behind doing so may vary, but as long as you have a positive attitude and the heart to give back, you will fall in love with the joy of volunteering.”

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