Leading with Empathy for Persons with Special Needs

Grateful for her new home in Singapore, Marianne Star Clemente Inacay has been paying it forward by volunteering at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD). Besides giving her a sense of purpose, she finds fulfilment in brightening the lives of persons with disabilities through volunteering. She shares the challenges faced amid the COVID-19 pandemic and her responsibilities as a Volunteer Leader with the Home.

With a soft spot for persons with disabilities and the elderly, Marianne Star Clemente Inacay, 33, a producer, was looking for opportunities to support them as a volunteer when she came to Singapore from the Philippines in 2017. That is how she found the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD), and started volunteering there.

Grateful for her new home in Singapore, Marianne sees volunteering as a way of paying it forward.

"I am very thankful for my new home in Singapore. I have always felt the need to spend time giving back to the community through volunteering," Marianne said.

Volunteering for a few hours over weekends and public holidays gives her a sense of purpose.

"I feel it is more meaningful to spend my time volunteering instead of visiting tourist spots and shopping malls. The time I spend with the persons with disabilities means a lot to them as they are confined to the ward for long periods of time. Small acts of kindness remind them that they are loved, which makes all the difference," she explained. 

Overcoming Challenges 

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers were the only visitors who were allowed to interact with the residents at RCHD, although they were required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) during their meetings. Marianne took it in stride even though wearing the PPE was uncomfortable.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenging period for RCHD residents, as they were not permitted to see their families, and some of the residents expressed their sadness and longing while Marianne fed them.

Marianne recounted an experience where a resident discarded the muffin and juice she offered him. 

"I was stunned. But the nurse told me that he didn't know how to articulate his feelings. He probably missed his family," she shared. 

Through that experience, Marianne learnt to empathise with the residents' plight of missing their families. Despite the stumbling blocks she faced while caring for the residents, Marianne persevered and tried her best to make them feel better. 

Once, a resident headbutted Marianne because he was delighted to see her. 

"It's funny and sweet moments like these that make my volunteer work meaningful and keeps my compassion for RCHD residents alive," she said. 

Knowing that she has brightened the lives of persons with disabilities is the best reward for the time she has spent with them.

Becoming a Volunteer Leader

Marianne was selected to become a Volunteer Leader, and attended the Volunteer Leadership Programme, where she met several volunteers from other Singapore Red Cross (SRC) programmes. This led her to learn more about SRC’s community services, and the assistance SRC provides to the elderly and people with special needs. 

"I learnt about SRC's contributions to the community through its various community services, programmes and activities. I also met several committed volunteers who literally walked the talk. They set aside time and effort to care for the elderly and people with special needs," Marianne said.

As a Volunteer Leader with RCHD, Marianne has several responsibilities. Besides organising a group of volunteers from Every Nation Church to clean residents’ wheelchairs every month, she also engages volunteers in caring and interacting with RCHD residents, such as ensuring the residents are fed according to their dietary restrictions, and playing games with the residents. She has also curated Christmas parties with carolling sessions to spread cheer and festivity within RCHD. 

Marianne was also trained to help the staff at RCHD as an emergency volunteer nurse. 

"Besides monitoring the vital signs of the residents and handling the levers of their beds, I also learnt the proper way to transfer the residents from the bed to the wheelchair and vice versa. These are important as many residents are weak and require proper care for their regular activities," she said. 

Marianne performs her responsibilities with passion and dedication. She enjoys being part of the team of  volunteers and caregivers at RCHD, who ensure the physical and social well-being of the residents. 

Encouraging People to Volunteer with RCHD

Marianne encourages people to volunteer at RCHD and SRC's Day Activity Centre for the Disabled. 

"I understand that some volunteers may be moved to tears upon meeting the residents for the first time. Others may feel ill-equipped to care for the residents. However, I believe that once the volunteers overcome their initial fear and hesitation, they can contribute positively to show love and kindness to touch the lives of the residents," she said. 

Marianne is glad that she is not the only one who is committed to care for the people with disabilities, despite the hurdles.  

"I am glad to see new volunteers coming on board, while the existing pool of volunteers at RCHD remains very committed. I’m happy to work with like-minded volunteers to make a positive impact on the lives of those in need," Marianne said. 

Marianne exemplifies the spirit of empathy, passion and community service. She and her fellow volunteers have sacrificed their free time to bring love and joy to the lives of persons with disabilities. They inspire others to follow in their footsteps to brighten the lives of others and build a more gracious society.

By Saurav Srivastava, Volunteer
Copyedited by Michael Gutierrez, Volunteer


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