SERVE volunteers promoting disability inclusion

By Fiachra Brennan

SERVE is guided by the vision that every individual, regardless of their ability, should be able to reach their potential and make a meaningful contribution to society. SERVE’s volunteer programme plays a key role in delivering our mission. Volunteers are assigned with the goal of building partner capacity, fostering global solidarity, and facilitating knowledge exchange and cross-cultural learning. In July 2019, 8 volunteers were assigned to our partner projects in Bangalore, India. 6 volunteers worked directly with the Association of People with Disability (APD), a pioneering organisation that strives to promote the rights of people with disability (PWD) through the provision of specialist services and by engaging in effective advocacy and policy formation initiatives.

hVolunteers included Elaine Houlihan, a qualified physiotherapist. Elaine was able to use her specialist knowledge to support the work of the physiotherapy department at APD. This was Elaine’s third time volunteering with APD, and in 2019 her specific objective was to help build the internal capacity of the team working in the hydrotherapy pool. The hydrotherapy pool is newly opened, but the team lacked the specialist knowledge and experience to deliver classes to a high standard.

Elaine took on two roles. Firstly, she facilitated classes with children from APD’s early-intervention unit, working with children with cerebral palsy. These classes were well received, with parents noticing notable changes, commenting that their children were more relaxed and less tense. Secondly, Elaine was asked to facilitate specialist training for the newly formed hydrotherapy team. Over a week, she provided a detailed introduction to both the theoretical and the practical applications of hydrotherapy. Participants were able to practice in the pool in real life situations, substantially enhancing the capacity of the team to deliver their classes.

Elaine found the experience to be beneficial for all involved,

‘Seeing the impact the hydrotherapy had on the children was heart-warming. I really started to notice it when parents said it to me about the improvements they had seen in their children after only one week of sessions’

Elaine’s work with APD demonstrates the clear and measurable impact of a well-organised and targeted short-term volunteer project. Elaine’s placement was only 4 weeks and yet she was able to deliver tangible outcomes for our partner organisation. Children benefitted directly from Elaine’s classes, which can now be continued by a better trained and better equipped team. This approach underlines the importance of partnership – Elaine was invited to help develop the capacity of the team delivering an ongoing project that they had identified as a priority. She did not seek to impose her own solutions. Rather, she worked within the framework of the existing project to deliver tangible and impactful outcome for the participants. Elaine’s contribution builds on SERVE’s development work in India, with volunteerism seen as a core part of achieving our mission.