See people for what they can achieve, and not what they cannot

VolunteersPreviously in Volunteers Week 2016, we introduced six new volunteers to Certitude who were going to be collecting stories from some of our services that support people with learning disabilities in Hounslow. Today, we caught up with how they each got on:

Ella enjoyed meeting different people and was particularly moved by one visit, saying “After interviewing people, Alice and I had the privilege of staying for part of the music session that was just starting. For me this was genuinely a life-changing, revelatory kind of experience which surmised everything that I had been learning about Certitude and their work. Like most people, before doing this placement I had not really had very much experience of people who have complex learning disabilities. It’s fair to say I found it daunting, for example, one of the people we met was grinding her teeth, another shouting and another swearing and one sitting very still and silent. However, when Rosie came in with her guitar and started singing, everything changed – my whole understanding changed. One of them sang so loudly and enthusiastically, while another lady kept suggesting new songs to which she knew all the words. Their enjoyment was infectious and I found myself joining in because I wanted to be a part of all the fun! The lady who had previously sat so still absolutely lit up with joy when Rosie played a song just for her and she smiled and smiled! The woman who had been self-soothing and seemed to me entirely in her own world out of the blue joined in with a rhyme, and tapped her foot along. As a musician myself, I felt very aware of the way that music has a kind of ubiquitous power over everyone as a force that draws us together, despite these differences that I had felt were so insurmountable. It moved me a lot and I feel like I really understand now how absolutely important it is that every individual gets the chance to enjoy these things like music, which in my life too is something that makes me feel alive…”

Sam found that his understanding of people with learning disabilities had been changed by his time at Certitude. He said “Volunteering with Certitude has been enlightening. I have acquired a first-hand understanding of the importance of treating people with disabilities as independent personalities with goals and aspirations. I have come to realise that a background in neuroscience and a biological understanding of neurological disorders is, if anything, inhibitive in this field, as my training focused on the categorisation of people by disorder, which in reality can be dehumanising. This was tough to come to terms with at first, but seeing the way Certitude approaches care has certainly changed the way I think about people with disabilities and provided me with a fresh outlook on the voluntary sector.”

Hidayah took the opportunity to learn how it is possible to make a difference to people’s lives in different ways, adding “My two weeks spent at Certitude were inspiring. I met so many wonderful people; from the people being supported, to the hardworking staff and my awesome teammates! Being interested in economic development, I’ve always wanted to know how we can help improve the welfare of people’s lives both through economic and government policies, and also through everyday support that is offered to everyday people. Thus, learning about what Certitude does and how they achieve it was a great experience. Listening to first hand stories from the people Certitude supports and its staff members have shown me how an organisation can help someone to live their life to the fullest, regardless of their situation.”

Sadaqat talked about what you can learn from people, regardless of their background… “Although I had always considered disability as a different level of ability I never had any first hand exposure to the life of such people. At Certitude I came across a robust care mechanism wherein people with learning disabilities are not just supported but are empowered to take control of their lives and encouraged to develop independence. During my time at Certitude I met some wonderful people who inspired me to face the challenges of life happily and show resilience in the face of adversity. I learnt a great deal; from inter personal skills, to team work, to a greater level of empathy towards my fellow human beings. Being at Certitude will be one the most memorable periods of my time in London. In short, my brief encounter with Certitude began with enthusiasm and culminated in a sense of fulfilment.”

Eleni has found new interests and was struck by experiencing person-centred support. She said “I feel gratitude for the opportunity to volunteer with Certitude. This experience has provided me with a new perspective on learning disabilities, surpassing the understanding of a disability as the defining factor of one’s identity. This has allowed me to gain respect and empathise with each individual through realising their uniqueness. Seeing how people were motivated to reach their full potential and the extent to which their wants and desires were central to their weekly activities not only gave me respect for the people supported and their carers, but also motivated me on a personal level. Moreover, through this experience, I had the opportunity to gain insight on how the voluntary sector works. It has particularly nurtured a newly found interest in the funding of charities, which I previously had minimal knowledge about.”

Finally, Alice was inspired by the people that she met visiting different places… “I had not heard of Certitude and the amazing work they do across London before I started the Global Citizenship volunteering scheme, but they really do provide outstanding support to the people they support. I have had the privilege of meeting some truly inspiring people: those who work and volunteer for Certitude, but also the lovely people in supported living, who welcomed us into their homes, showed us round, and chatted to us about their lives, their hobbies and their interests. What I will take from this experience amongst many things, is to see people for what they can achieve and not what they cannot, something that Certitude strives to achieve every day.”

All in all, over the course of our visits we met many vibrant characters from a plethora of different backgrounds and experiences, and also of varying capacity. Despite these differences, the person-centred approach to the manner in which they are supported is unwavering. Whether it is someone like Betty* who is encouraged to play the drums, volunteer and socialise with other people in her home, or Ryan*, a man living independently who relies on Certitude to help him with shopping and finance so he can cook meals for a mental health group he organises weekly, Certitude’s approach to support receives overwhelmingly positive reviews from all parties. Upon consideration, this comes as little surprise. It is only recently that people with disabilities have been able to foster such independence and choice in life. It is clear that Certitude have helped this by promoting not only those they support to engage with the community, but also for the community to help them integrate. Thanks to this amazing work, many people who have in the past been marginalised now live normal, independent lives. We truly hope that Certitude is given the platform to expand its reach and continue to do life-changing work for years to come.