‘It was the best experience of my life thus far’:
was the cringeworthy, hackneyed statement I used to sum up Mencap when talking to my tutor at the start of term – but that’s exactly what it was.
There is a Chapel talk each year presenting the reasons to volunteer for Mencap: it’s incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, it looks great on your CV and it helps so many children.
While Mencap allows for, and is, all of these things, it is so much more. However, because it’s such a unique experience, it’s hard to put it into words.
I could give you the basic definition – a holiday for children between the ages of eight and eighteen with moderate to severe learning
and physical disabilities – but that simply doesn’t do justice to what is an incredibly fulfilling, entertaining and emotional week.
If the child you’re looking after wants you to dress up in a gorilla onesie
and chase them for half an hour while making sound effects as you perspire excessively,
then that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
You have to become completely apathetic to how you are being perceived
by the other helpers as you prance around dressed in an array of ridiculous costumes.
(of which there were at least six), taking each item out and putting it on either her or myself.
Though dressing up provided the children with hours of fun, as did visiting Wickstead Park, Hunstanton
and Twin Lakes, I think my favourite activity was ‘sing-song’, which took place every evening just before the children’s bedtime.
There was not a single child who didn’t enjoy singsong and some even spent the entire day singing the songs and looking forward to it.
Though usually I do abide by the rule ‘what happens on Mencap, stays on Mencap’, on this occasion I will have to break it to share a priceless moment.
From dressing up as Batman’s Robin to dealing with the most difficult situations that arose, nothing was too embarrassing or demanding for Mr Banerjee as long as it made a child smile.
However, watching him dance around the circle singing ‘I am the music man … I play the piano pia-pia-piano
… Oompah, oom-pah, oom-pah-pah’ was undoubtedly an unforgettable highlight of my Mencap experience,
which has altered my view of my psychology teacher ever since.
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