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Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 20 July, 2019
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Opinion: Volunteering isn't hard, you can just sit and have tea with someone

You would think my friend and I have nothing at all in common, and yet our friendship means so much.

Mark Farrell

I HAVE A friend, we don’t go out for drinks, we don’t talk football, movies, girls or TV. He loves listening to music, but not what I would listen to – Daniel O’Donnell definitely is not my taste. He loves the bog, really loves the bog, and I could think of no worse place to spend my summer.

You would think we have nothing at all in common, and yet our friendship means so much. When he laughs at something I’ve said or done that is a special moment, after a few hours with him I go home feeling fulfilled, a feeling I’ve done good. But he does more good for me than I do him.

My friend is four years older than I am but is intellectually disabled. He can’t walk that well either, and any time we go out needs a wheelchair. Despite this he is such a happy wonderful person to be around. Intellectually disabled doesn’t mean simple, doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He knows he’s not like everyone else he knows he has to rely on others, and yet he’s such a happy person.

We became friends 

We didn’t choose each other as friends. In fact from his point of view I was just landed on him and he was told I was going to be his friend. From my point of view, it took Garda clearance and a few one day courses, and I was then introduced to him.

We became friends, because I wanted to do something that would change someone’s life for the better. I volunteered to become a one-on-one mentor. Yes, volunteered. I have to give my own time, unpaid. But that’s no big deal, we don’t get paid to spend time with friends anyway.

Many people I talk to about it, say they wouldn’t have the patience, but why? You don’t have to go every day, you can do as much or as little as you want. Is it because they wouldn’t have patience to deal with someone not like them? You don’t need patience to have tea with someone, to talk, to listen, to have a laugh.

We don’t go to the pub, we don’t talk football, cars or films. Our musical tastes vary wildly, and yet we have a very pure, amazing friendship. He asks nothing of me but time, I ask nothing of him, just the hope I make his day that little better.

I probably get more out of our friendship than he does

He shares a house with a woman with similar disability, and although I’m his buddy, she likes to have a new face come to the house. She doesn’t have a buddy who can bring her out, though, and it’s a pity because she too is a wonderful, kind, amazing person.

The day I went for my induction there were two other volunteers starting, and this was considered to be a big intake. This was the first “group” in over six months.

It’s probably not for everybody, lots of people think they wouldn’t have the patience – and at first I was unsure too – but volunteering to mentor someone, to be a friend, is so rewarding. Selfishly I probably get more out of our friendship than he does, but it’s hard not to.

Mark Farrell lives in Kildare with his wife Carrie and their dogs.

Read:  Could you be the first point of contact for a child who wants to talk?

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Mark Farrell

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