I’ve always considered myself to be a people person. Someone who is able to connect with others, listen and communicate well. Volunteering at the Tower Hamlets summer holiday club taught me that communicating and connecting with a person involves more than just words – it includes touch, gestures and sound.
At the club in Tower Hamlets I met Karim*, who had a very different way of communicating – facial expressions and gestures being his main language. I realised that I was about to experience first-hand the Sense principle of starting by understanding the other person’s way of communicating and building from there.
I had been told that music and sensory toys were Karim’s favourites, so session one – junk modelling – saw us making a stringed drum from a cereal box and cord. It prompted a spot of finger drumming. This I took to be encouraging sign that we were hitting the right note!
In the parachute game session, I watched and learned from Roksana, a Sense Children and Family Support Worker. I was in awe of how she led the session, enabling the children to make choices, learn how to take turns and have a huge amount of fun. There were lots of smiles and laughter. A drum workshop, led by a professional Brazilian drummer, was another hit as we rocked to the rhythm. But the real highlight of the day was to come.
In the final session, Karim was offered a ladybird massager. He had obviously seen one before and excitedly grabbed it to hold under his chin. Though he had limited use of his arms, he was able to manipulate the ladybird into different positions with complete control and the smiles and laughter as his body felt the vibrations were a joy to behold.
Day two began with icing biscuits. I was concentrating on giving Karim choices, so I wasn’t just icing the biscuit for him. Roxanna steered me to pour the sprinkles into my hand, so that he could feel them.
We took walks outside and he smiled, rocking to the movement of the wheelchair and wind. We danced round the sports hall to the songs of the visiting guitar player. We took trips in the lift to feel our stomachs churn.
If you can’t hear or process words easily, then feeling things through touch is much more important. It’s a principle I knew in my head – and had observed Sense staff putting into practice – but it took my volunteering experience to really begin to understand it.
Karen volunteered on the Sense summer holiday club in Tower Hamlets.
Read more about the summer holiday club.
* Karim’s name has been changed to protect his identity