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Building faith, hope and charity

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Sebastian Lee never expected to find much in common with a group of special-needs children.

Until he volunteered at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy, the 14-year-old didn't know anybody with physical or mental challenges.

“The biggest surprise was that they aren't that different from us,” he said. “Sometimes they can't speak, or have a delay in their speech or reactions, but other than that they are very similar.”

He and Somersfield Academy classmates Madeleine Yashar and Christina Costello signed up in January as part of a community service project demanded by their school.

Once it was finished, they felt compelled to do more.

The teenagers are hoping to raise $5,000 for the school's charity, Friends of Hope Academy.

The money will be used to buy updated therapeutic equipment, sensory kits and online resources.

So far they've raised $2,515 through donations at gofundme.com/hopeforallBermuda.

From January to May, the trio gave up their lunch hours, helping teachers at the school. Madeleine came up with the idea.

“My mother, Lisa, had been volunteering at Hope Academy for a while,” the 13-year-old said.

“I would go in every once in a while and read books with the children. The staff mentioned they were looking for more volunteers and people to help work with the children. I thought maybe if these guys were OK with it we could try and turn it into a community project. We all got together and liked the idea.

The concept was to try to create bonds with Hope Academy students so they can have friends outside of their school.”

Her friends quickly jumped on board, but things didn't go smoothly at first.

The students all seemed a bit suspicious, and refused to listen to them.

Slowly, everything changed.

“They recognised us,” said Madeleine. “They were excited to see us. As we came more and more they would want us to read books with them or do arts and crafts with them. They started to trust us.”

Christina, 14, said the project was eye-opening.

“I learnt that Hope Academy isn't much different from a regular school,” she said. “What surprised me was that I actually grew to form a relationship with the children.

“After a while I got to know each of them and what they do each week and their personalities. It was great interacting with the children. It was really fun, actually.”

Sebastian, who hopes to become a surgeon, said the project has made him reconsider his career. “It has made me look at different options, like maybe paediatrics,” he said.

“Thanks to this project I have really noticed how fortunate we are to have full function of our bodies and minds. It is good to be aware of that.”

Christina didn't know yet what she wanted to do as a career, but was sure the volunteer experience would help.

She plans to continue volunteering at the school in September.

“It was fun,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Forging friendships: volunteer Sebastian Lee with Hope Academy students, from left, Dylan Peart, Jonathan Marshall-Symonds and Darien Peniston. (Photograph supplied)
Volunteer Madeleine Yasha with Hope Academy student Serena VanPutton (Photograph supplied)
Volunteers Christina Costello, left, Sebastian Lee and Madeleine Yashar (Photograph supplied)
Gaining trust: volunteer Madeleine Yashar reads to Hope Academy students. (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 23, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 23, 2016 at 9:09 am)

Building faith, hope and charity

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