Blind Singaporean Doing Volunteer Work
Reena Rajasvari is 61 this year and her 2019 goal is to trek up to Mount Everest base camp.
To prep for the ascent, this senior citizen goes to the gym, swims and climbs mountains on the regular. As if personifying #fitspogoals isn’t enough, she also finds time to lead volunteer programmes at 12 homes in Johor Bahru, in between working as a part-time consultant and being a motivational speaker.
Reena Rajasvari is also blind.
Losing her sight
The ex-teacher lost her sight when she was 28 years old.
“One evening, I was doing my students’ papers after dinner. Suddenly, everything went dark. I checked [with] my mum whether the lights [were] on. She said all the lights [were] bright, but I was not even able to see my own fingers,” Reena recounts.
A check-up with the opthamologist that evening revealed she was suffering from silent acute glaucoma. Sudden, rapid buildup of fluid pressure in her eyes had damaged the optic nerves.
“My dad and elder brother wanted to donate one eye each so that I would be able to see. But the doctors said no. Even if there was an eye transplant, it would not work.”
Reena in her 30s
Coping with being blind
Adjusting to her new reality was difficult as she could not accept her blindness.
When she lost her vision, “all [her] dreams were shattered” as she had to give up her teaching career. She withdrew from social contact and refused the cane because she reasoned that others would pity her visual impairment.
“Every night, I [would] always be wandering around my room, not able to sleep. I was always crying in the darkness. Not being able to see was one thing, but [in] my heart, [there] was so much anger.”
Eventually, Reena spiralled into depression and attempted suicide multiple times.
The start of her volunteering journey
Out of the blue, a friend called her up and brought her to visit a home for persons with multiple disabilities in Johor Bahru.
There, a caregiver explained how the residents were wheelchair-bound, had autism, Down syndrome… As Reena listened to their stories, it dawned upon her, “Hey, these people have lost more than one sense but yet they were living life well.”
“It really not only hit me hard, it brought [about] a turning point. I realised I’m only disabled in my eyes, not in my mind and my heart.”
When she returned home, Reena began learning how to type, use the computer via a voice synthesiser and read in Braille. In 2002, she founded Christian volunteer group, Ambassadors of Christ, and started making monthly visits to the home for people with multiple disabilities.
Slowly, Reena expanded her volunteer efforts, which presently includes 12 homes in Malaysia. These homes cater to orphans, troubled youths, elderly and low-income groups.
Reena on one of her earlier volunteer trips
Living a full life with visual impairment
Today, Reena works as a part-time consultant for ROHEI Corporation while juggling volunteerism. She is also a motivational speaker and social advocate for persons with disabilities.
Next February, she plans to complete a chaplaincy and pastoral course at Perth Bible College, so she can become a volunteer counsellor for refugees.
Between preparing for the move Down Under and work, she’ll also try to squeeze in trekking to Mount Everest base camp. If not this year, then the next.
Hiking and climbing mountains are one of her favourite parts of travelling. Some of her favourite countries to visit are Philippines, Korea, Japan and Taiwan, with Australia topping the list.
“I like travelling on my own because I cannot wait every time for people to follow me. A lot of people ask me, ‘You cannot see, why are you travelling?’ Yes, I cannot see. But I enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy everything by listening, smelling, touching, hearing.”
Reena with family in Australia
Being Blind In Singapore
“People always have the concept that we visually impaired are not able to do many things in life. There are many visually impaired who… just stay at home.”
“The reason is because people don’t believe in them and they’re very discouraged. I think everybody as a society, including the government, must give them their dignity. Not to feel pitiful for the blind, you know, not to reject them.”
“At one point, I felt so hopeless and helpless in my life. So I felt that I should go into these homes to encourage, so that they will not feel the same.”
“By stretching out my hands to help, I realise[d] that there was a meaningful purpose in my life. It’s not how good I am but how good the people around us can be.”
“So I think we have to believe in ourselves, and to move forward. You know, the vision, the blindness will not limit me.”
All images courtesy of Reena Rajasvari.