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An environment of "love and respect" at Focus Surrey

Updated: Mar 25

As part of #nationalvolunteerweek2022 Sile Hu describes his volunteering experience at Focus Surrey.

"It has been very meaningful for me to volunteer at Focus Surrey, to meet lots of fantastic tutors and friends, and play with children.

Before this experience, I had actually worked with a lot of children. In my family, I have six little brothers and sisters behind me so my role is more likely to be a leader to take care of them. Also, I’ve taught primary school students in China, helping them to learn English. Also, I am studying education at UCL so I have a basic understanding and interest in children with special education needs. All these experiences have helped me to create a strong interest in working with children, especially those with special education needs.

I had volunteered with blind children at the Royal Society for Blind Children in London, I wanted to do some special education works related to autism and special learning difficulties in the future, so when I heard the information about Focus Surrey from my university, I chose to participate without any hesitation.

The most important thing I will say is that volunteering at Focus Surrey has really helped me to build practical skills and given me lots of support in order to work with autistic children. In the first week and third week, we were trained by experienced Board Certified Behaviour Analysts. There were lots of interesting ideas related to how to pair with children and how to increase their motivations and interests based on Applied Behaviour Analysis guidelines.

But when I first started to pair with the children (one to one tutoring), I faced lots of challenges and difficulties. It was a little bit hard and overwhelming for me to communicate with the children, especially one of my children who was more likely to be quiet and say nothing. But with the support from tutors and room leads, I gradually started to know how to pair with them and find their interests. One of the useful strategies I’ve learned and used is to be emotional and play roles with them in order to catch their eyes and promote them to pay attention.

Mand training is also a quite significant tool to help children to request something and say the words independently. Sometimes it’s hard for some children to give reactions and say some words. But it’s a really good process to communicate with them and promote them to listen and learn. And if they can say the words independently, I will get a sense of accomplishment and become very happy. I think all the tutors and volunteers share the same emotions on that which is very good. And after so many sessions, I have more chances to understand autistic children profoundly and try to help them personally instead of just learning theories from the books.

Another thing I like very much is related to the communication, engagement, and respectful environment in Focus Surrey. It’s quite interesting to work in a small group. We can share stories and communicate with each other. And this can make us reflect more from other perspectives which is very good. Also, tutors, parents, and other volunteers are all very friendly and are willing to help and support each other.

"I like the environment (full of love and respect for the children) created by all the people in Focus Surrey. They are trying their best to dedicate their time and energy to helping children with special needs as well as raising awareness in society."

In this environment, even if you don’t have any experience with children with special education needs, you will still be engaged a lot and it’s a unique experience for you to participate in this big group, develop yourself, and help the children. At least for me, I become more passionate and have clear goals for helping children with special needs.

So yes, I will say that volunteering in Focus Surrey is an amazing experience. I’ve got lots of precious experiences and relationships with tutors, children, and other friends. And even sometimes I feel tired after each session, the experience will still make me keep positive emotions and feel satisfied to a big extent. There is lots of respect and support from Focus Surrey for the children which is something I really like and appreciate. Because in my home country, special education is still developing and few people actually know what special education is and how to deal with children who have special needs. So I will continue to attend the next term of volunteering and start to do my master's studies related to special and inclusive education. And in the future, I may become a teacher in a special school or work in a recovery institution and start to raise more awarenesses in my home country."

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