Avid volunteer despite losing her sight

Ms Reena Rajasvari, 57, lost her sight almost 30 years ago, but she has a vision to help the less fortunate.

For two days every month, she takes paid leave from her full-time job as a sales consultant to volunteer in Malaysia.

She lives in Singapore and works with eight different organisations across the Causeway. She also organises monthly gatherings here for 30 others who are visually impaired.

Volunteering gives her a sense of purpose. "I feel that I can be useful to others, and there are many people who can do the same thing to make a difference in somebody else's life," she said.

Her company, training consultancy Rohei Corporation, gives her 24 days of paid volunteer leave each year, and 21 days of annual leave.

When in Malaysia, she meets caregivers in homes for the disabled, the elderly, orphans or delinquents.

Depending on their needs, she then goes back with over 20 people, who help to transport supplies such as clothes, food and books.

She started these visits with three friends more than a decade ago.

They go to three organisations on each day trip, which she helps to organise. She also allocates work within the team, and they conduct programmes for the homes' residents, with activities such as singing and counselling.

Ms Reena recalls that accepting her visual impairment was not easy. She was a 28-year-old teacher when she lost her sight.

"It was 7.30pm, and I asked my mum, 'Is it a blackout?' "she said. "My mum replied, 'No, all the lights are on.' But I was not able to see anything. I was not even able to see my own hands and fingers."

That evening, her father took her to an ophthalmologist. She was diagnosed with acute glaucoma. This is caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye, which damages the optic nerve and leads to blindness. It usually affects people above 30 who have diabetes or high blood pressure.

Ms Reena had neither condition, and experienced no warning signs. It was a difficult time in her life. "Even wanting to get up from my seat to take the next step made me fearful that I might fall and get hurt," she recalled.

For more than five years, she went through a series of treatments, including three eye operations. They did not work.

A few years later, life dealt her another blow - her father died. He had been one of her greatest supporters.

But things started to change. A friend introduced her to others from his church. Their help and encouragement, she said, gave her strength to carry on.

One friend took her to visit a home for the disabled in Johor Baru.

While she could not see the residents, hearing their stories struck her. "These people had lost more than one of their senses, but they were living life. What about me?"

She started to acquire skills such as navigating with a cane, reading in Braille, and using a voice synthesiser to work on the computer.

It took at least six months of hard work, but she landed a job as a telemarketer in the hotel industry. Three years ago, she joined Rohei.

Her colleague, business development consultant Lee Hak Ming, 50, once joined her on a volunteer trip.

He said: "When we visited different people in the homes, she would brief us on the challenges that they face and assign us work. The people know her well because she goes there very often.

Mr V. Rajamanikam, 70, founder of the Handicapped and Mentally Disabled Children Association in Johor Baru, said: "She plays with the children and teaches them. Although she is blind, she does what ordinary people don't."

Said Ms Reena: "Volunteering helps me reflect on the times that people have encouraged and inspired me... I want to be there, month after month, to give them courage - to tell them that we are family."


This article was first published on November 12, 2015.
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