Taking Root in a Community of Care
“I always remind myself that being here is about…creating opportunities for everyone in the community (PWDs, seniors, and families) to play badminton.”
Play-Ability has taken a life of its own since it was first introduced to the Bedok-Chai Chee community in March 2018. The recreational sports programme for persons with disabilities (PWD) was first planted in Heartbeat@Bedok to capitalise on its inclusive facilities.
From just two badminton sessions, the Bedok-Chai Chee neighbourhood now plays host to five weekly sessions across four sports – badminton, basketball, swimming, and most recently, tennis.
And what has allowed Play-Ability to take root and flourish are the residents who actively contribute to their community.
Paul Kong, for example, is a familiar face at Heartbeat@Bedok’s badminton courts. Paul, whom the participants affectionatey call “uncle”, is also one of Play-Ability’s most regular volunteers, often volunteering up to three times a week. Having played the sport for over 20 years, coupled with years of experience in the corporate world, he brings a fresh spin to the programme with his technical knowledge and life lessons.
Where volunteers’ actions may sometimes be informed by stereotypes about PWDs, Paul has always treated participants as equal persons in his community, never underestimating their abilities. He teaches participants how to improve their technique and challenges them to improve their game play, and also advocates the importance of living an active lifestyle to fellow volunteers.
While proximity to Heartbeat@Bedok is important, Paul is clear that a sense of care for others is what motivates him.
“When the participants get off the bus and greet me enthusiastically, the feeling is akin to my own child greeting me when I arrive home after a business trip,” Paul shares.
“But I always remind myself that being here is not about my happiness. It is about creating opportunities for everyone in the community (PWDs, seniors, and families) to play badminton,” he added.
Like Paul, Play-Ability’s volunteer tennis coach, Mike Krishnan also believes that sport opportunities are important to persons with disabilities and special needs.
“Many special needs children may not know what it’s like to be on a basketball court, or a golf course,” he stressed. “And through sports, we give them the opportunity to feel a sense of self-worth and confidence to say hey, I can participate in sport too!”
Mike lives within walking distance of Heartbeat, and conducts tennis sessions every Sunday afternoon for ten adults and teenagers on the autism spectrum, and their parents.
He is also a father of two young children with autism spectrum disorder himself, so his weekly contribution goes beyond the perimeters of the Bedok-Chai Chee. Mike shared that it is not often that ‘special needs families’ get to meet other families, and as the weeks progressed, he was happy that the participants’ parents were starting to spend their breaks in between exercises and after sessions chatting and bonding together.
The dedication of volunteers to any cause is essential for its sustainability, but the exceptional contributions of community volunteers like Paul and Mike is perhaps the reason why Play-Ability has been able to bloom where it was planted.