The Faithful Hand

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First Hand Volunteers (Vanessa in white on left and Estelle in blue dress on right)

The Faithful Hand

Prior to the coining of the acronym ‘Friends In Reaching out and Serving the Terminally Ill’ (FIRST) Hand, the work simply known as ‘Services to the Terminally Ill’ started in 1998.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which causes HIV infection and subsequently Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first clinically observed in 1981. Though in the 1980s and 90s there were much public awareness made about this illness (which still had no cure but better management medication), it was not a disease which patients openly talked about, as the common causes of infection were moments of passion. Along with the physical consequences, the illness often casts shadows of shame and regrets.

According to the Ministry of Health, the reported total number of HIV patients in Singapore was 7140 as of end 2015, the number of new cases were consistent at 450 per year. HIV patients would receive treatment at the Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The period of stay ranges from a few days to a month.

On alternate Mondays, our FIRST Hand volunteers visit the HIV patients at the CDC. The guitarist and singer would begin to sing and brighten the mood while other volunteers take their seats beside the patients, extend the hand of friendship and listened to their stories.

“It was during one of our first few visits when we were asked to sing for a tall dark patient covered with body art. We felt unwelcomed but nevertheless decided to sing an upbeat song ‘我的未来不是梦’ (My future is not a dream). He didn’t even look at us but the moment we sang the chorus, he wept uncontrollably.” – Vanessa Ng

“The patients are more than happy to have people to chit-chat and spend time with them. When they thank me at the end of the visit, their smiles warmed my heart and the hope in their eyes tell me that they would have a better night of rest knowing that they were not alone on this journey.” – Estelle Chia

This year, 20 FIRST Hand volunteers served a total of 90 patients. It was not a work which would be seen on social media platforms with selfies and wefies, but a consistent effort extended on the first night of the work week, for 18 years. A Faithful Hand.

by Kenny Low