Giving a voice to the Deaf community

Working with the Deaf community has taught Clara many life lessons beyond the classroom.

Phang Jing Lin

Published: 8 May 2017, 11:58 AM

Helping others has always been part of Clara Chee’s life.

When Clara was in secondary school, she developed an interest in volunteering after a couple of ad-hoc stints. In Nanyang Junior College, she visited the patients in Institute of Mental Health every week, together with her school’s Interact Club.

What draws her to volunteer?

“Volunteering has always been about learning more about myself and getting to learn from other people.

“It’s very meaningful because there’s always something you can take away from everybody. It allows me to connect with people that I wouldn’t normally get to interact with on a daily basis,” said Clara, 20.

Clara (fifth from the right) was an active member of Nanyang Junior College’s Interact Club, which dabbles in service learning. PHOTO CREDIT: CLARA CHEE

Her interest in volunteering was reignited when she interned at Youth Corps Singapore (YCS).

“I learnt how to trust myself. The staff gave me a lot of opportunities to take on responsibilities and make decisions. They trusted me a lot, and it allowed me to learn and grow,” said Clara, who also worked on designing and writing YCS’ newsletter.

After her four-month internship, Clara joined Welfare Services Club (WSC) shortly after entering Nanyang Technological University in August 2016.

In the co-curricular activity (CCA), Clara took part in the Regular Service Project for the Deaf Community, RSP (DC), which provides weekly tuition programmes for deaf children and teenagers and enrichment courses for deaf adults.

That was when she found her calling – helping the Deaf community.

“I found sign language interesting, especially because it closely ties with my major, linguistics and multilingual studies. I also enjoy teaching, so the tuition part seemed fun to me,” said Clara.

The first year student added: “Studying this new language and seeing the relationship between language and culture come alive strongly outside the classroom is very interesting.

“Sometimes, my professors like to use sign language as an example, especially because it’s a language not just confined to the parameters of speech and writing.”

Through her CCA, she chanced upon an application for committee members to organise SPARKZ, an annual one-day bonding camp for youth volunteers to interact with their deaf tutees.

After some hesitation, Clara decided to apply for the President post, as the cause was close to her heart.

Clara (left) briefing the campers during SPARKZ. PHOTO CREDIT: RSP (DC) PUBLICITY AND PUBLICATIONS

The lively youth said: “I’ve never held a top position before and it seemed like it would be a lot of pressure. It was at times, but it was those moments that really challenged me and encouraged me to improve myself.”

“It was a very stressful but meaningful journey, especially when you are struggling with deadlines for school work and SPARKZ.

“For SPARKZ, there’s beneficiaries at stake, so you cannot leave out small details because it might compromise their safety,” said Clara, who started planning for the camp in October 2016.

Thankfully, Clara had plenty of help and encouragement from her seniors and committee members.

She also received sponsored items from her former colleagues at YCS, who listed SPARKZ 2017 in their yearly volunteering event, Youth Corps Service Week 2017.

Clara at the prize-giving ceremony held during the finale of SPARKZ 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: RSP (DC) PUBLICITY AND PUBLICATIONS
Held yearly, the one-day camp bonds the tutors and tutees together through station games. PHOTO CREDIT: RSP (DC) PUBLICITY AND PUBLICATIONS

Her interest in volunteering didn’t end there.

In the midst of planning for the one-day camp, Clara found time to tutor a 16-year-old deaf student every Saturday at the Toa Payoh Community Centre.

“At first, [there was a] communication barrier. I would just type on the computer because it’s easier for me to teach grammar by typing. After a while, I realised she is more receptive when I sign.

“I’ll ask her how to sign, and she’s more interested in the lesson when she’s teaching me and I’m teaching her. It’s a two-way process, and I like it that way,” said the NTU undergraduate.

Clara even took up a semester of sign language classes to help her communicate better with her tutee. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/PHANG JING LIN

Clara also found herself deeply inspired by her hardworking tutee.

“Although she may not be strongest in English, it’s very touching to see her trying to improve all the time, asking why she went wrong,” said Clara, with a smile.

So, what is Clara working on next?

She said: “We have a learning journey coming up for the tutors and tutees to bond, so they will get to do a baking session together. I think that’s quite cool to have more of these sessions, so that it’s not all about tuition.”

“I like interacting with students and being around them. It encourages me to be a better person,” added Clara.

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