Diana Lee, a volunteer, shares her experiences
Catholic AIDS Response Effort volunteers and staff (facing camera in black and white tops), together with residents having a singalong session.
Four years ago, at the blissful age of 67, a nagging desire to be a volunteer enveloped me. Whenever I hear a homily, read a spiritual book or watch my Korean TV dramas, my conscience would suddenly come alive, telling me to “do something”. But what was I to do, where, and with whom?
As a member of the Light of the Lord Covenant Community at the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, I have for over three decades, built discipline in my prayer life. I know it was God calling me to “get up and serve” and so I readily let Him lead me to where He knew I would serve best – and He led me to the Catholic AIDS Response Effort
The Lord has taken my 40 years of experience as a nurse, who had encountered the sick and the suffering
daily, to His beloved children at CARE. These children of God were likewise sick and suffering from an illness not understood by many, but unlike those in hospital, they suffer in silence, fear and shame. They do not have any visitors as many are abandoned by their families and shunned by their friends. These children of God, stricken with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), come to CARE in a broken state, harshly judged and unloved by those closest to them and by society at large. They are not only physically and emotionally tormented, they are mentally and spiritually
I remember a resident sharing with me how his life was “hell on earth”, and how he was often bullied and made to feel worthless. He would bury all the pain deep within his heart, and when he was brave enough to face the pain, he would confide to himself by writing on his Ipad, consoling himself with every word. That day, he could no longer find any more words of consolation, so he handed me his Ipad, dejectedly. I read pages and pages of his broken dreams and loneliness, his despair and longings. I can still remember the feelings I had when I first read his story. I had wondered if I were in his shoes, would I be able to survive all the hurt and pain on my own.
There was another resident whose story I would remember for a long time. He was telling me how he would visit his
family but was never allowed into the house. He would converse with them outside the gate until one day the neighbours noticed this strange behaviour and started to question. He was then allowed in, asked to sit on a chair beside the door, and had a boundary drawn around the chair. A bottle of Dettol and mop were placed nearby. When he stood to leave, his family members immediately started to prepare the clean-up. He told me this story quietly, with a very brave front, although I could see tears in his eyes. He accepted his situation and knew never to go home again to disturb
It is these heart-breaking stories and many others that made me realise that I have to be a trusted friend to these residents, not just a volunteer who come to visit as and when. I have to make a commitment to them even if it means being there every week, to listen to their stories and to share my faith.
Residents at CARE come from all religions and creeds, ages and ethnic groups, so they are free to join in the singing sessions if they wish.
I have been thoroughly blessed in my journey with CARE, making many new friends among the volunteers. We trust one another explicitly, we pray together, and we work as a team. I believe our camaraderie has given some confidence to the CARE residents that we are here for them.
Although this journey has its many uphill battles, one of which is the perils of aging – I am 71 this year – it is very encouraging for me to see the residents starting to appreciate life again, slowly but surely, with some courage and a bit more resilience.
They have started to take more pride in their “home-away-from-home”, cleaning up the community areas, even taking good care of the residence’s pet fish and rabbits. They have less disagreements among themselves now, and have started to do gardening, carpentry works, cooking, candle and rosary making, and even started to sing and dance in their little moments of joy. Some have even converted to Catholicism.
For us volunteers, we are given training at Tan Tock Seng Hospital to understand the needs of HIV patients better. We attend social mission conferences, participate in useful experiential workshops, and receive regular spiritual lessons from Father Kenson Koh, CARE’s spiritual director.
The journey of volunteerism has been fulfilling, to say the least, and so I urge fellow retirees like me, who hear His call, to not be afraid to take the risk to do something out of our comfort zone.
The CARE website is http://www.care.org.sg/.
Diana is a volunteer with CARE which was founded in 1992 with the Christian dedication of promoting the dignity of the human person. Its mission is to be the face of God’s love to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) from all walks of life and background, regardless of their race or religion. At CARE, this has been realised mainly through the provision of holistic care in the form of spiritual, psychological, emotional, financial and physical support to PLWHAs.
The main focuses are:
• CARE shelter for men where they experience companionship of staff and volunteers who journey with them, helping them to overcome their emotional and social issues.
• Non-residential programme for people with AIDS who are living on their own and who require support and assistance.
• Advocacy programme to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and promote greater understanding and acceptance.
Once a year, on World AIDS Day, CARE joins the rest of the world in praying for and with PLWHAs that we may empathise with them and embrace them in Christian friendship so that they feel accepted and find the hope and courage to go on living meaningful and fulfilling lives.
The annual World AIDS Day Mass was held on Dec 2 this year at Novena Church.