Senior 3 students in the English Liberal Arts (ELA) class are reading literature dealing with the theme of mortality. As part of their semester project, students engage in service learning by visiting the Song Tang Hospice each week in Chaoyang district, which is a care facility for people who have exhausted all forms of medical treatment for their condition. The students are keeping a weekly journal of their experiences.
Many faculty and staff are volunteering each week. Below is a reflection that was written by one of our teachers in the Global Studies Department, James Vaughan.
The students have been volunteering their time at a hospice for several weeks now, and we have begun to establish a routine for each visit. Upon arrival members of the staff greet us and inform us of the ways they can best accommodate us for the day according to the status of the patients and the amount of staff available.
We have been fortunate to have some warm sunny days in recent weeks, so chairs are arranged outside, the patients are brought out and our students begin our visit with the performance of a number of songs. Within seconds, people are clapping along and smiles begin to broaden across young and aging faces alike. Not to be outdone by our students, one of the head staff members also performs a number of songs, his voice bellowing through the courtyard with a commitment that does not seem to diminish with each passing week.
At this point, our students gravitate towards the patients that they have established some familiarity with and they resume conversations that began weeks before. I cannot speak Chinese. So, aside from the few sentences here and there that students are kind enough to translate for me, I have to rely on body language, facial expressions, and the sound of people’s voices to interpret my experience each week. What I gather from all of this is that for a brief moment each week our students participate in creating an atmosphere where people have a shared interest in making the elderly or sick feel more comfortable, feel more connected, and feel like they are still seen.
This does not require some Herculean effort to achieve. Making someone feel comfortable may just mean that they need you to adjust their chair or scratch an itch that is frustratingly out of reach. Making people feel more connected can be achieved by an acknowledgment in conversation or maybe the person just wants you to admire the sparkling of a ring that was given to them under the glow of your cellphone light. Lastly, no one wants to feel like their last days were spent cast aside to the discard pile.
Hopefully, arriving each week and exchanging a familiar smile and even sharing a laugh diminishes such notions. But I can’t be sure. Maybe it doesn’t. What I can be sure of is that when someone makes me laugh on a Monday morning the weight of the entire week seems a lot less daunting and it changes the trajectory of my whole day. When someone makes me laugh on a Friday afternoon, the toll the entire week has taken on me begins to register as insignificant. So, I will bet on laughter every time, and I can be sure that what our students do every week is not for naught.
Global Studies Department