Retiree Edward Solomon is more than a friend to the blind. He is their helper, chauffeur, tour guide and confidante. Five days a week, from Monday to Friday, Solomon helps to run errands for a group of blind friends.
Whether it is trips to the bank, shopping for groceries or paying bills, Solomon thinks nothing of going the extra mile for those who need his services.
He accompanies them to the hospital for follow-ups which can be taxing to the blind as they may have to move from the doctor’s clinic to the lab for tests, and to the pharmacy to collect their medication.
Solomon, 75, is sometimes accompanied by his wife Padmini, 68, a part-time teacher at an international school in Kuala Lumpur.
Life has been good to this elderly couple and they want to give back to society with whatever energy and money they have.
Hng Tek Hing, 59, a small-time businessman, is one person whom Solomon helps regularly. Hng phones Solomon whenever he needs to pay utility bills or go to the bank.
“Sometimes I may need help if I’m going to an unfamilar place,” said Hng. “Solomon is very accommodating.”
Hng loves travelling and Solomon accompanied his family on a trip to Sabah two years ago.
“We had a great time there. We brought back many heartwarming memories of our holiday together,” said Hng. “We visited the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and spotted proboscis monkeys while on a river cruise. Solomon was the tour guide and he gave a running commentary of interesting happenings or beautiful sceneries.”
“Being blind does not stop people from travelling,” Solomon chipped in. “They can still enjoy the scenery, sample new food and make new friends along the way.”
Solomon has also accompanied two blind couples on trips to Chennai and Madurai in India. He even arranged for free boarding with his relatives in India, and they were happy to play the gracious hosts.
Recently, he drove a blind man, his wife and three young children to Penang and Alor Setar. “They wanted to visit their relatives,” said Solomon.
Solomon may be a veteran now when it comes to serving the blind but he still remembers an unfortunate incident when he first started out as a volunteer. He was taking a group of six blind men out for a walk when one of them fell into a big drain.
“Thank God he wasn’t hurt. The rest of the group stopped in their tracks. The blind man who fell into the drain is almost 80 now. Recently he fractured his hand and is house-bound. A group of us visited him in his house.”
After the mishap, Solomon learnt how to lead the blind properly. “I alert them to obstacles along the way. I also inform them of the number of steps ahead or what I see. It is important to cultivate their trust. Honesty is another prerequisite for volunteers, especially when we help with ATM withdrawals and transfer of money.”
The Solomons first got involved in social work two decades ago. They were part of a church support group which visited HIV patients in hospital.
“Some of these terminally-ill patients were cut off from their families or shunned by friends. Their family members and relatives did not visit them for fear of contracting HIV. They felt dejected and abandoned by society due to the social stigma. So they were very happy to see us. We offered a listening ear and counselled them,” said Solomon.
He had no fear of socialising with HIV patients because he knew the disease could not be transmitted by touch.
“We hugged and touched these HIV patients. We helped the nurses to feed them. We felt their vulnerability, loneliness and emptiness. They just wanted someone to talk to, and we were there for them.”
“Back then, almost every Sunday, my wife and I would go to Sungai Buloh Hospital and befriend a dozen of these patients. We talked to them and brought them food. They were delighted to be treated to laksa and char kway teow.”
Solomon remembers with fondness a particular patient they had befriended.
“This man was in his 40s and he came from a rich family. He had turned over a new leaf after he contracted HIV. He wanted to show his gratitude and cooked a lovely meal for my wife and I. He was staying at a nursing home at that time. A few days later, we heard that he had passed away. We felt very sad and cried.”
Solomon has also worked with disabled children at an equestrian club in Ampang, Selangor. He learnt to ride a horse when he was in his 30s, and gave free riding lessons to disabled children some 10 years ago.
“It was therapeutic for the children. They made progress in their hand movements after six months to a year. Initially their fists were clenched but after many riding exercises, they were able to flex and move their fingers,” Solomon recounted.
It is obvious that he enjoys every minute spent serving the needy. “It keeps me occupied. And I feel blessed to be able to help people who need my services,” added Solomon.