Joan Leung is passionate about psychology and working alongside individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. She’s currently studying her BAHons in Psychology at the University of Auckland and hopes to study a Masters degree in the Neuropsychology of Autism. She moved from Hong Kong to New Zealand over four years ago and became involved with Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre (RMTC) through a family friend. Joan has a bent for volunteering; having helped disabled orphans in Xining, Mainland China and children in Costa Rica during her travels. RMTC helps children and young people with a wide range of special needs, including those needing support with physical, intellectual, developmental, behavioural and emotional issues. It is New Zealand’s only music therapy centre and Joan has been volunteering with them since the beginning of 2009.
What prompted you to volunteer for RMTC?
Having only recently arrived in New Zealand I was on the lookout for things I could get involved in to fill up the huge amount of free time I had during my first year of university. I initially heard about RMTC through a family friend who had just read an article about the Centre in passing. Knowing a bit about my background and how much I enjoy playing music, she suggested that I give this place a second look. To be honest, it was mostly curiosity that drew me towards RMTC. I had no idea what music therapy was until I got involved here. My appreciation for this approach has only increased.
How can music be used to help people at RMTC?
Music helps children with intellectual and physical disabilities communicate in the absence of words. In the cases where talking or understanding speech is not a feasible option, it is important to keep in mind that there are many other ways to teach basic skills that can help them cope in a social environment. Music, which includes the simple act of creating a rhythm, is easy to master and attention-grabbing. By engaging in the process of ‘making music’ with the therapist, children are able to grasp the concept of things like sharing, taking turns, reciprocating meaningful gestures and forming relationships. I think one of the reasons behind RMTC’s success is that the therapists offer music-making experiences of exceptional quality that not many people can match.
What drives your passion for volunteering and working with people who have disabilities?
My parents never cease to remind me that life is really quite simple and that everything eventually boils down to health and happiness. I guess the fact that I have both factors makes me appreciate them and also acknowledge that not everyone turns out so lucky. This drives me to use the best of my abilities to work alongside those who start off at a disadvantage. These people are in no way responsible for the condition in which they were born and yet are expected to live with the consequences. The fact that people with disabilities are still present in our population somewhat reflects the inherent goodness of human nature. If it was otherwise, only the physically and mentally strongest individuals would have survived the process of evolution. I believe that using one’s strengths to help another go through life with relatively less complications is goodness in its purest form.
Who inspires you?
People who launch into a job, taking on all its related responsibilities, just for the love of it. People who choose to help and provide a service for others without first considering how much they will get paid for it or whether it will gain them public recognition. Selfless people.
Describe for us one of your most memorable RMTC experiences.
One of the best experiences I have had so far falls on RMTC’s most recent Open Day. Hearing the music therapists give talks about their own sessions and the progress that the kids are making as a result of coming to the Centre; as well as seeing crowds of supporting parents, children, teachers and local people arrive at the door; makes me reflect on how happy I am to be given the opportunity to be involved in the organisation and running of such a special place.
Why do you believe in the work that RMTC do?
I believe in what I can see. And what I see are children who show significant improvements in their behaviours, confidence, trust and relationships after having music therapy at RMTC. I also see a team of people at the Centre who give these children everything they’ve got on a daily basis to ensure there is more than enough support in order for development to occur. The amount of effort the staff at RMTC put into providing such a unique service deserves to have the encouragement of everyone behind them.
What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering is really a way for me to exercise my passion for working with and helping people without a qualification. It keeps me busy and involved while I go through the laborious process of studying to eventually be able to serve others on a professional level. Volunteering keeps me in touch with what goes on outside the University lecture halls. It actually helps me grasp what I am learning more easily because I am able to apply the theories to what I can see and experience while taking time away from the textbooks.
What more can be done to support RMTC?
Run a fundraising event – be creative and come up with an idea to raise funds for RMTC. Car cleaning, bake days, mufti days and entering marathons and other sports events are just some of the ways supporters help raise funds via fundraising events. Either give RMTC a call or email with your event idea and they will help you with promotional material and advertise events on their website.