Wearing a mask has become second nature to most of us – part of the ‘new normal’ brought about by the COVID-19 situation.
But for the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing community, masking up has made communication even more challenging – something that HR professional, football fan, and active volunteer Oliver Guo, 33, realised during one of his volunteer sessions.
Together with his wife Amanda, Oliver noticed that some seniors had difficulties engaging in conversations when the other party was wearing a mask. Some of these seniors faced partial hearing loss and relied partially on lip-reading to communicate.
A family affair
The couple decided to look for a solution.
They found their answer in clear masks. These unique masks had transparent panels over the mouth area to enable those who are hard of hearing to read the lips and facial expressions of mask-wearers.
Such masks would be extremely useful for those who had regular interaction with the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing community – volunteers like themselves, those who teach the Deaf, or even members of the public.
Their next challenge was to figure out how to sew the different components of the mask.
They enlisted the help of Oliver’s mum, Mdm Cheong – now their oldest volunteer at age 70.
Armed with her handy Singer sewing machine and a couple of YouTube tutorials, the couple got to work making clear masks. “Looking back, I probably would not have had the opportunity to spend as much time with my mother had we not started this initiative,” reflects Oliver.
Oliver and his family started a Facebook page called ‘The Simple Deed’ to document their journey, gaining a network of volunteers through word-of-mouth.
Their team is now 25 members strong. “Our volunteers have been amazing. Many of them with sewing skills have given us feedback or suggestions on ways to improve our prototypes,” Amanda shares.
A simple deed goes a long way
To date, Oliver and his team of volunteers have donated some 650 clear masks, to beneficiaries such as SADeaf - the Singapore Association for the Deaf.
As The Simple Deed grew, they received requests from people whom they did not expect would benefit from the clear masks.
One such group was preschool teachers, who use it to teach phonics to young children. The masks enable the children to see their teachers’ enunciation more easily, aiding in their social interaction.
“Speak to people from different backgrounds,” Oliver adds. “We didn’t realise that some people faced difficulties conversing with masks on until we spoke to the elderly. I think we can become more aware of the needs of others by just speaking to and interacting with the people around us.”
Oliver is happy to offer advice to others looking to start their own volunteering initiative. “Do your research – there are many resources online to support you, like the Singapore Together page,” he suggests. Through their Facebook Group, The Simple Deed receives fabric donations, and also makes calls for others who would like to volunteer their time to sew.
A couple that gives back together, stays together
“Both football and volunteering require an immense amount of teamwork,” chuckles Oliver, who is an avid Arsenal Fan.
To Oliver, his wife Amanda is his most important team player. “I often come up with volunteering ideas, but without Amanda’s support, they would just remain ideas.”
Indeed, while some couples spend time by going for a run or exploring food haunts, it is volunteer work that bonds the Guos. “In some ways, the time we spend volunteering is also our dating time,” the couple quipped.
Oliver and Amanda have been active volunteers since they were in school. After getting married, the couple made sure to set aside time every week for their volunteering activities.
Their volunteer work has ranged from helping persons with disabilities through animal-assisted therapy for instance, to sending food to the elderly. Says Oliver, “We don’t have to be doing the exact same thing when we volunteer, but at the dinner table we’ll talk about what we did, the conversations we had, what else we can do.
“It’s how we create our shared experiences and goals.”
Have an idea that can help others, or want to give back to the community? Check out singaporetogether.gov.sg/ideate-and-act.
This article is part of a series of stories of individuals who have shown support to fellow Singaporeans during this fight against COVID-19.