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“Being a volunteer benefits me too, not just the people I help. Career-wise I may have lost out, but here I feel I can do something worthwhile and be recognised for it.”
-- Diana, a volunteer
 

The platform

Turning illnesses into a resource for society

“People stricken by a chronic illness have to learn how to cope with it, including the practical ways to manage it in everyday life,” says Idy Lee Kim-man, a registered social worker with the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation. “From the perspectives of social welfare and health care, their experience can be turned into a valuable resource for society, and a vital support for fellow patients of chronic illnesses.”

 

This conviction underlies Idy’s work at the Society. As coordinator of its Mutual Support Platform for Families and Caregivers of People with Chronic Illnesses, she helps both recovering patients and their caregivers to become volunteers, serving other patients in need.

 

 

The experience of patients of chronic illnesses and their caregivers can be turned into a social resource for others.

 

Encouraging volunteers to serve chronic patients and their caregivers isn’t new in Hong Kong. But few programmes also invite the recovering patients and their caregivers themselves to get involved.


Sharing information, empathy and a healthy attitude to life

Ill health can be turned into a resource for society in three ways, Idy says.

 

First, by encouraging the sharing of information. “Most patients with chronic illnesses see the doctor once every three to six months, and they spend only a few minutes with the doctor. But our volunteers, having been sick themselves or taken care of those who have been sick, know well how patients should be cared for. They are living examples of how to get better, and their experience is very valuable to people who are trying to do the same.”

 

Second, people who have been through a similar experience bond more easily, and empathy can work wonders for those going through hard times. “No doctor, nurse or social worker will be able to understand the difficulties patients and their caregivers face as well as a person who has been through the same,” Idy says. “A patient may well say to a social worker, ‘What do you know? You’ve never been sick this way.’ But the same patient will find plenty to talk about with a volunteer who shares a similar experience.

 

The Mutual Support Platform hopes that more people can understand caregivers’ need and right to enjoy their life. 

 

“This is especially true for patients who are suffering from degenerative illnesses. Those who have had experience of caring for such a patient know first-hand the difficulties involved. It’s frustrating to see someone you care about slowly lose his or her ability to do something. It’s not because the patients don’t want to do it, of course, but that they can’t do it. Caregivers would find it easier to accept this fact if they were to hear it from someone who’s been through a similar experience, and who understands their frustration.”

 

Last but not least, volunteers can share their positive attitude to life. Idy says: “When patients first become ill, they are bound to go through emotional ups and downs. Sometimes they feel hopeful; other times they see a bleak future and feel they can’t go on. The volunteers have been through all of this, and they have learned to live with the sickness. Some have even returned to work, or taken up meaningful volunteer work.”

 

Their leading by example brings home the powerful message that even in ill health, we have a choice: we don’t have to spend the rest of our days at home, waiting to be served.


A volunteer-led platform

Some people may think volunteering is something we do only when our life is going well. Recovering patients and their caregivers already have so much on their plate, how can they afford the time and energy for volunteer work?

The experience of patients of chronic illnesses and their caregivers can be turned into a social resource for others.

 

Lucian Chan Tsz Hei, another registered social worker at the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, concedes that getting patients to volunteer isn’t easy: before they can step forward, patients must overcome a psychological barrier and find their motivation to help. “Among our volunteers are people recovering from a stroke, coping with Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, or who suffered brain damage,” he says. “All of them see the value of sharing with others the experience of their rehabilitation. Some even feel that, ‘Today I help others, tomorrow others will help me when I need help’.”

 

Self-confidence plays a role as well, Idy says. “Patients who become volunteers recognise that although they don’t earn much of an income now, what they’re giving is nevertheless valuable,” she says. “There’s a wide range of things anyone of us can do to help others; we simply find a way that suits us. It’s an interesting process for the volunteers, too: they find that helping others also helps their own recovery.”

 

Indeed, volunteers who lead the platform share the belief that helping others gives dignity to life and creates positive energy. They meet once a month. Not only do such meetings deepen volunteers’ faith in the values of respect, tolerance and acceptance, they also facilitate learning. During these sessions, volunteers share their experience of serving others and techniques for communication. They also learn practical tips such as how to push a wheelchair.

 

There’s no doubt the volunteers are setting the direction, Idy says. They decide on the theme of the monthly meeting and suggest areas for improvements. As social workers, she and her colleagues help to find the resources needed to support the platform. “Actually, the volunteers are very resourceful. For example, if one says he doesn’t understand the dialect of a patient he’s been working with, immediately someone who knows steps in with tips for simple conversation.”

 
Caring for the caregivers

In the 10 years since the launch of the platform, there have been plenty of challenges. On the one hand, it’s tough recruiting volunteers; on the other, the demand for help is ever rising. Idy says: “Many are basic needs, such as taking the patient to the doctor. It’s especially hard when it comes to patients in wheelchairs. Unlike volunteers elsewhere, many of our volunteers are not physically strong enough to handle such a task.”

 

In fact, Idy believes that Hong Kong’s social welfare system should provide such a service, for instance as part of the Social Welfare Department’s Integrated Home Care Services. Unfortunately, such help for caregivers is sorely lacking.

 

While taking patients to medical check-ups is important, Idy hopes the Mutual Support Platform can also support caregivers by giving them some needed time to rest and socialise, thus easing their mental stress. “Caregivers need to take time off their 24/7 schedule to rest properly, to visit friends, go to the bookshop, enjoy a relaxing yum cha at the restaurant,” Idy says. “Sadly, in our current model of social welfare provision, these are seen as luxuries.”

 

Through the promotion of the platform’s values of dignity and respect, Idy hopes that more people will come to see that caregivers have the right and need to enjoy life.


From ‘social burden’ to ‘social capital’

The platform’s journey over the years illustrates the challenges and dilemmas faced by caregivers of patients of chronic illnesses, and their urgent need for help. Modernisation has brought many changes to our lives. Today, more people suffer from chronic illnesses than ever before. Advances in health technologies mean we are living longer lives but spending more of our years in ill health. Is a better health care system the answer? And how can we ensure that people with ill health continue to live useful, meaningful lives? We need to rethink these issues to find better solutions, Idy says.


The volunteer

We give what we can

Diana has a limp, the result of a stroke 10 years ago. She lost her job after the stroke, and has had to let go of her domestic help and move to a smaller apartment. But this single mother never gave up. Today, Diana is a volunteer with the Mutual Support Platform, and helps to take patients to their doctor’s for check-ups. “This is a win-win situation: I help a family in need and in the process I discover self-worth. And the care goes both ways: I care for those I serve, and they care for me in return.”

 

“Being a volunteer benefits me too, not just the people I help. Career-wise I may have lost out, but here I feel I can do something worthwhile and be recognised for it.” – Volunteer Diana

 

 

Immediately after her stroke, Diana did not doubt she would make a full recovery. When she was first admitted into the hospital, she was given a bed right by the window. A nurse asked her if she was thinking of killing herself. “I laughed,” Diana said. “I told her, ‘Why should I? Of course not!’”

 

Diana had seen people who were older than her suffer a stroke then make a complete recovery, so she was confident she would do the same. But she didn’t realise a delay in seeking treatment would make all the difference: she had waited a whole night before going to the doctor, even though the attack had left the lower part of her face contorted. In the ward, she remembered telling the doctor to hurry up, because she had to meet a client in Bangkok. Her doctor told her: don’t even think about it for at least six months.

 

As it turned out, her recovery was painfully slow, a process she likened to dripping water trying to bore a hole through stone. Still, the single mother of two told herself she must get better; her teenage children needed her and she could not give up.

 

Diana did not get on a plane to meet that client, of course. Soon after she left the hospital, she lost her job. No longer able to afford domestic help, Diana let her helper go. But after the stroke, her arms were too weak to handle a wok and therefore cook, so she had to apply for meal delivery from social services. The arrangement continued for two years until she sold her private apartment and moved into a public rental flat. There were plenty of food shops around her new place and no slope she needed to get around. Having more food options made her daughter so happy, Diana recalls.

 

Life was tough, but it didn’t stop Diana volunteering with the Mutual Support Platform. As a volunteer, she helps to take patients with chronic illnesses to the hospital for their regular check-ups. “I may not be able to cook a meal, but I can surely accompany the patients to the hospital, help them get their medicine, listen to the doctor’s advice with them and report their progress to their family,” she says.

 

“Many patients have difficulty keeping their doctor’s appointment because there’s no one to take them – their son may be away on the mainland, their daughter-in-law has to work and their grandchild has to go to school. And it isn’t easy, too, making sense of the often-tedious procedures of seeing a doctor in a public hospital. This platform was set up to provide the patient’s family with an extra pair of hands. I can spare the time, so why shouldn’t I help?”

 

Having overcome her own health crisis, Diana says empathy for other patients comes easily. So does conversation with them. “Our medical conditions may differ, but when one speaks about pain so debilitating that she cannot do anything, the other immediately understands. It makes me really happy to know that the patients I work with are always looking out for me. Many of them are elderly women. I don’t walk fast, so they would wait for me when I fall behind. And whenever they are seated, they would look around to see if there’s an empty seat for me too.”

 

“Being a volunteer benefits me too, not just the people I help. Career-wise I may have lost out, but here I feel I can do something worthwhile and be recognised for it,” she says.

 

Weekly medical appointments are listed on the calendar. Without help, sticking to the schedule would have been very difficult.

 

The patient

Just like talking to an old friend

“We’re only one year apart, Mr Ng and I. And both of us once ran a factory on the mainland. I know the customs of his ancestral home, and we have many common topics of interest. Even our values are very similar. Take the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft, for example. We talked about what might have happened and, amazingly, our versions of the story were almost the same! He always tells me, ‘Buddy, if you hadn’t suffered a stroke, we could have gone travelling together’. And I tell him, ‘If only we had met 20 years earlier!’”

 

Volunteer Diana (left) with Mr and Mrs Yau, a family served by the Mutual Support Platform.

 

Seventy-five-year-old Mr Yau is a patient served by the Mutual Support Platform. He is outgoing and enjoys meeting people. The history buff also likes telling a good story. Since his stroke two years ago, Mr Yau has not been able to meet up with his old friends for yum cha as he did before, and he misses those gatherings. “I used to go to the restaurant at 7 every morning, and my favourite seat and pot of tea would be waiting for me. Everyone there knew me, and enjoyed listening to my stories.”

 

Sticking to this routine is hardly possible now. Mr Yau’s wife has Parkinson’s disease while his son works. Besides, the apartment block where the family lives has a long flight of stairs.

 

He was introduced to Mr Ng by the hospital. Since then, the Mutual Support Platform volunteer has gone to the flat every week to take Mr Yau to the clinic for acupuncture. After the session comes the real highlight of the day – a trip to the tea house. The two would spend some time there trading jokes and stories. “All the stories I couldn’t tell because I no longer go to the tea house every day, I tell them to him now,” Mr Yau says with a laugh.

 

Mr Ng was not a stroke patient himself, but his late wife was, and he understood the difficulties of coping with the disabilities. Mr Yau agrees: “He really understands what I am going through.”

 

For Mrs Yau, the volunteer’s help has been invaluable. “Honestly I don’t know how I could have coped without him,” she says.

 

To Mr Yau (right), Mr Ng is not only a volunteer, but a new friend.

 

Serving others and helping ourselves

“When I met this patient, he could only lie on the bed and could not even move. But I saw him try; he didn’t give up and tried hard to recover. His perseverance was inspiring. I learned from him to face up to whatever difficulties I meet, and believe that things will improve if we don’t give up.”
-- Volunteer Leung Wai Cheung

 

“I suffer from a chronic illness too, and understand that sticking to a schedule of check-ups can be a hassle. Sometimes even a small change can throw us off and make us feel helpless. I really feel for those patients I work with and their family. I know what it feels like not to be able to be there for a loved one because of work… I will continue to work hard to make myself a useful person (not just a sick person)!”
--Volunteer Tsang Yim Ching

 

“After my mother was diagnosed with this illness, the whole family felt like we were facing the end of the world. Among the siblings, we often quarreled over how we should care for her. I felt depressed and discouraged… The Mutual Support Platform arranged for two volunteers to come and help take care of my mother. It was like a ray of light in the darkness; I was so glad. My mother gets along well with the volunteers. Although they spend only a few hours with her each time, their help has been truly invaluable.”
--Caregiver Hung Kwok Ying, whose mother has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease

 

“With the help of a volunteer, I get to go to the market to buy groceries. I can take my time, too, to choose and find what I need. I’ve learned a lot through our conversations. The volunteer has been through something similar, and we can share our views on life and on being sick. I’ve gained a lot from this.”

--Patient Wong Wai Chun, who is wheelchair-bound after suffering a stroke

 

 

About the Platform

The Mutual Support Platform for Families and Caregivers of People with Chronic Illnesses believes in mobilising patients and caregivers to help one another, so as to share the load of caregiving and provide some relief for stressed-out caregivers. The platform’s volunteers are either living with a chronic illness themselves, or provide care for a loved one who is. Despite these challenges, they have stepped forward to share their experience and give practical help to others who need them. Their enthusiasm for life inspires all who meet them.

 

These are some of the services they provide:

  •  Home visits, during which they share how they cope with sickness with a positive outlook

  •  Take over the caregiving duties for several hours at a time to allow the caregiver some needed time for themselves

  •  Accompany patients to their regular health check-ups

  •  Take the patients out to visit friends, shop, have a meal, go for a walk, etc.

  •  Be the extra pair of hands to help caregivers, to lighten their load

 

Between 2011 and 2013, the platform has served some 150 people. With its pool of 48 volunteers, the platform has logged a total of more than 800 service visits, with each visit lasting an average of three hours. The Fu Tak Iam Foundation has been sponsoring the platform’s operations since October 2011.

 

Text by: So Mei Chi   Translated by: Chen Zhijun 

 

 

 

 

 


 

“Being a volunteer benefits me too, not just the people I help. Career-wise I may have lost out, but here I feel I can do something worthwhile and be recognised for it.”
-- Diana, a volunteer
 

The platform

Turning illnesses into a resource for society

“People stricken by a chronic illness have to learn how to cope with it, including the practical ways to manage it in everyday life,” says Idy Lee Kim-man, a registered social worker with the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation. “From the perspectives of social welfare and health care, their experience can be turned into a valuable resource for society, and a vital support for fellow patients of chronic illnesses.”

 

This conviction underlies Idy’s work at the Society. As coordinator of its Mutual Support Platform for Families and Caregivers of People with Chronic Illnesses, she helps both recovering patients and their caregivers to become volunteers, serving other patients in need.

 

 

The experience of patients of chronic illnesses and their caregivers can be turned into a social resource for others.

 

Encouraging volunteers to serve chronic patients and their caregivers isn’t new in Hong Kong. But few programmes also invite the recovering patients and their caregivers themselves to get involved.


Sharing information, empathy and a healthy attitude to life

Ill health can be turned into a resource for society in three ways, Idy says.

 

First, by encouraging the sharing of information. “Most patients with chronic illnesses see the doctor once every three to six months, and they spend only a few minutes with the doctor. But our volunteers, having been sick themselves or taken care of those who have been sick, know well how patients should be cared for. They are living examples of how to get better, and their experience is very valuable to people who are trying to do the same.”

 

Second, people who have been through a similar experience bond more easily, and empathy can work wonders for those going through hard times. “No doctor, nurse or social worker will be able to understand the difficulties patients and their caregivers face as well as a person who has been through the same,” Idy says. “A patient may well say to a social worker, ‘What do you know? You’ve never been sick this way.’ But the same patient will find plenty to talk about with a volunteer who shares a similar experience.

 

The Mutual Support Platform hopes that more people can understand caregivers’ need and right to enjoy their life. 

 

“This is especially true for patients who are suffering from degenerative illnesses. Those who have had experience of caring for such a patient know first-hand the difficulties involved. It’s frustrating to see someone you care about slowly lose his or her ability to do something. It’s not because the patients don’t want to do it, of course, but that they can’t do it. Caregivers would find it easier to accept this fact if they were to hear it from someone who’s been through a similar experience, and who understands their frustration.”

 

Last but not least, volunteers can share their positive attitude to life. Idy says: “When patients first become ill, they are bound to go through emotional ups and downs. Sometimes they feel hopeful; other times they see a bleak future and feel they can’t go on. The volunteers have been through all of this, and they have learned to live with the sickness. Some have even returned to work, or taken up meaningful volunteer work.”

 

Their leading by example brings home the powerful message that even in ill health, we have a choice: we don’t have to spend the rest of our days at home, waiting to be served.


A volunteer-led platform

Some people may think volunteering is something we do only when our life is going well. Recovering patients and their caregivers already have so much on their plate, how can they afford the time and energy for volunteer work?

The experience of patients of chronic illnesses and their caregivers can be turned into a social resource for others.

 

Lucian Chan Tsz Hei, another registered social worker at the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, concedes that getting patients to volunteer isn’t easy: before they can step forward, patients must overcome a psychological barrier and find their motivation to help. “Among our volunteers are people recovering from a stroke, coping with Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, or who suffered brain damage,” he says. “All of them see the value of sharing with others the experience of their rehabilitation. Some even feel that, ‘Today I help others, tomorrow others will help me when I need help’.”

 

Self-confidence plays a role as well, Idy says. “Patients who become volunteers recognise that although they don’t earn much of an income now, what they’re giving is nevertheless valuable,” she says. “There’s a wide range of things anyone of us can do to help others; we simply find a way that suits us. It’s an interesting process for the volunteers, too: they find that helping others also helps their own recovery.”

 

Indeed, volunteers who lead the platform share the belief that helping others gives dignity to life and creates positive energy. They meet once a month. Not only do such meetings deepen volunteers’ faith in the values of respect, tolerance and acceptance, they also facilitate learning. During these sessions, volunteers share their experience of serving others and techniques for communication. They also learn practical tips such as how to push a wheelchair.

 

There’s no doubt the volunteers are setting the direction, Idy says. They decide on the theme of the monthly meeting and suggest areas for improvements. As social workers, she and her colleagues help to find the resources needed to support the platform. “Actually, the volunteers are very resourceful. For example, if one says he doesn’t understand the dialect of a patient he’s been working with, immediately someone who knows steps in with tips for simple conversation.”

 
Caring for the caregivers

In the 10 years since the launch of the platform, there have been plenty of challenges. On the one hand, it’s tough recruiting volunteers; on the other, the demand for help is ever rising. Idy says: “Many are basic needs, such as taking the patient to the doctor. It’s especially hard when it comes to patients in wheelchairs. Unlike volunteers elsewhere, many of our volunteers are not physically strong enough to handle such a task.”

 

In fact, Idy believes that Hong Kong’s social welfare system should provide such a service, for instance as part of the Social Welfare Department’s Integrated Home Care Services. Unfortunately, such help for caregivers is sorely lacking.

 

While taking patients to medical check-ups is important, Idy hopes the Mutual Support Platform can also support caregivers by giving them some needed time to rest and socialise, thus easing their mental stress. “Caregivers need to take time off their 24/7 schedule to rest properly, to visit friends, go to the bookshop, enjoy a relaxing yum cha at the restaurant,” Idy says. “Sadly, in our current model of social welfare provision, these are seen as luxuries.”

 

Through the promotion of the platform’s values of dignity and respect, Idy hopes that more people will come to see that caregivers have the right and need to enjoy life.


From ‘social burden’ to ‘social capital’

The platform’s journey over the years illustrates the challenges and dilemmas faced by caregivers of patients of chronic illnesses, and their urgent need for help. Modernisation has brought many changes to our lives. Today, more people suffer from chronic illnesses than ever before. Advances in health technologies mean we are living longer lives but spending more of our years in ill health. Is a better health care system the answer? And how can we ensure that people with ill health continue to live useful, meaningful lives? We need to rethink these issues to find better solutions, Idy says.


The volunteer

We give what we can

Diana has a limp, the result of a stroke 10 years ago. She lost her job after the stroke, and has had to let go of her domestic help and move to a smaller apartment. But this single mother never gave up. Today, Diana is a volunteer with the Mutual Support Platform, and helps to take patients to their doctor’s for check-ups. “This is a win-win situation: I help a family in need and in the process I discover self-worth. And the care goes both ways: I care for those I serve, and they care for me in return.”

 

“Being a volunteer benefits me too, not just the people I help. Career-wise I may have lost out, but here I feel I can do something worthwhile and be recognised for it.” – Volunteer Diana

 

 

Immediately after her stroke, Diana did not doubt she would make a full recovery. When she was first admitted into the hospital, she was given a bed right by the window. A nurse asked her if she was thinking of killing herself. “I laughed,” Diana said. “I told her, ‘Why should I? Of course not!’”

 

Diana had seen people who were older than her suffer a stroke then make a complete recovery, so she was confident she would do the same. But she didn’t realise a delay in seeking treatment would make all the difference: she had waited a whole night before going to the doctor, even though the attack had left the lower part of her face contorted. In the ward, she remembered telling the doctor to hurry up, because she had to meet a client in Bangkok. Her doctor told her: don’t even think about it for at least six months.

 

As it turned out, her recovery was painfully slow, a process she likened to dripping water trying to bore a hole through stone. Still, the single mother of two told herself she must get better; her teenage children needed her and she could not give up.

 

Diana did not get on a plane to meet that client, of course. Soon after she left the hospital, she lost her job. No longer able to afford domestic help, Diana let her helper go. But after the stroke, her arms were too weak to handle a wok and therefore cook, so she had to apply for meal delivery from social services. The arrangement continued for two years until she sold her private apartment and moved into a public rental flat. There were plenty of food shops around her new place and no slope she needed to get around. Having more food options made her daughter so happy, Diana recalls.

 

Life was tough, but it didn’t stop Diana volunteering with the Mutual Support Platform. As a volunteer, she helps to take patients with chronic illnesses to the hospital for their regular check-ups. “I may not be able to cook a meal, but I can surely accompany the patients to the hospital, help them get their medicine, listen to the doctor’s advice with them and report their progress to their family,” she says.

 

“Many patients have difficulty keeping their doctor’s appointment because there’s no one to take them – their son may be away on the mainland, their daughter-in-law has to work and their grandchild has to go to school. And it isn’t easy, too, making sense of the often-tedious procedures of seeing a doctor in a public hospital. This platform was set up to provide the patient’s family with an extra pair of hands. I can spare the time, so why shouldn’t I help?”

 

Having overcome her own health crisis, Diana says empathy for other patients comes easily. So does conversation with them. “Our medical conditions may differ, but when one speaks about pain so debilitating that she cannot do anything, the other immediately understands. It makes me really happy to know that the patients I work with are always looking out for me. Many of them are elderly women. I don’t walk fast, so they would wait for me when I fall behind. And whenever they are seated, they would look around to see if there’s an empty seat for me too.”

 

“Being a volunteer benefits me too, not just the people I help. Career-wise I may have lost out, but here I feel I can do something worthwhile and be recognised for it,” she says.

 

 

Weekly medical appointments are listed on the calendar. Without help, sticking to the schedule would have been very difficult.

 

The patient

Just like talking to an old friend

“We’re only one year apart, Mr Ng and I. And both of us once ran a factory on the mainland. I know the customs of his ancestral home, and we have many common topics of interest. Even our values are very similar. Take the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft, for example. We talked about what might have happened and, amazingly, our versions of the story were almost the same! He always tells me, ‘Buddy, if you hadn’t suffered a stroke, we could have gone travelling together’. And I tell him, ‘If only we had met 20 years earlier!’”

 

Volunteer Diana (left) with Mr and Mrs Yau, a family served by the Mutual Support Platform.

 

Seventy-five-year-old Mr Yau is a patient served by the Mutual Support Platform. He is outgoing and enjoys meeting people. The history buff also likes telling a good story. Since his stroke two years ago, Mr Yau has not been able to meet up with his old friends for yum cha as he did before, and he misses those gatherings. “I used to go to the restaurant at 7 every morning, and my favourite seat and pot of tea would be waiting for me. Everyone there knew me, and enjoyed listening to my stories.”

 

Sticking to this routine is hardly possible now. Mr Yau’s wife has Parkinson’s disease while his son works. Besides, the apartment block where the family lives has a long flight of stairs.

 

He was introduced to Mr Ng by the hospital. Since then, the Mutual Support Platform volunteer has gone to the flat every week to take Mr Yau to the clinic for acupuncture. After the session comes the real highlight of the day – a trip to the tea house. The two would spend some time there trading jokes and stories. “All the stories I couldn’t tell because I no longer go to the tea house every day, I tell them to him now,” Mr Yau says with a laugh.

 

Mr Ng was not a stroke patient himself, but his late wife was, and he understood the difficulties of coping with the disabilities. Mr Yau agrees: “He really understands what I am going through.”

 

For Mrs Yau, the volunteer’s help has been invaluable. “Honestly I don’t know how I could have coped without him,” she says.

 

To Mr Yau (right), Mr Ng is not only a volunteer, but a new friend.

 

Serving others and helping ourselves

“When I met this patient, he could only lie on the bed and could not even move. But I saw him try; he didn’t give up and tried hard to recover. His perseverance was inspiring. I learned from him to face up to whatever difficulties I meet, and believe that things will improve if we don’t give up.”
-- Volunteer Leung Wai Cheung

 

“I suffer from a chronic illness too, and understand that sticking to a schedule of check-ups can be a hassle. Sometimes even a small change can throw us off and make us feel helpless. I really feel for those patients I work with and their family. I know what it feels like not to be able to be there for a loved one because of work… I will continue to work hard to make myself a useful person (not just a sick person)!”
--Volunteer Tsang Yim Ching

 

“After my mother was diagnosed with this illness, the whole family felt like we were facing the end of the world. Among the siblings, we often quarreled over how we should care for her. I felt depressed and discouraged… The Mutual Support Platform arranged for two volunteers to come and help take care of my mother. It was like a ray of light in the darkness; I was so glad. My mother gets along well with the volunteers. Although they spend only a few hours with her each time, their help has been truly invaluable.”
--Caregiver Hung Kwok Ying, whose mother has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease

 

“With the help of a volunteer, I get to go to the market to buy groceries. I can take my time, too, to choose and find what I need. I’ve learned a lot through our conversations. The volunteer has been through something similar, and we can share our views on life and on being sick. I’ve gained a lot from this.”

--Patient Wong Wai Chun, who is wheelchair-bound after suffering a stroke

 

 

About the Platform

The Mutual Support Platform for Families and Caregivers of People with Chronic Illnesses believes in mobilising patients and caregivers to help one another, so as to share the load of caregiving and provide some relief for stressed-out caregivers. The platform’s volunteers are either living with a chronic illness themselves, or provide care for a loved one who is. Despite these challenges, they have stepped forward to share their experience and give practical help to others who need them. Their enthusiasm for life inspires all who meet them.

 

These are some of the services they provide:

  •  Home visits, during which they share how they cope with sickness with a positive outlook

  •  Take over the caregiving duties for several hours at a time to allow the caregiver some needed time for themselves

  •  Accompany patients to their regular health check-ups

  •  Take the patients out to visit friends, shop, have a meal, go for a walk, etc.

  •  Be the extra pair of hands to help caregivers, to lighten their load

 

Between 2011 and 2013, the platform has served some 150 people. With its pool of 48 volunteers, the platform has logged a total of more than 800 service visits, with each visit lasting an average of three hours. The Fu Tak Iam Foundation has been sponsoring the platform’s operations since October 2011.

 

Text by: So Mei Chi   Translated by: Chen Zhijun