Balmain's best buddies

Students participating in the Best Buddies program.

Sydney Secondary College (Balmain) students have been on a roll with their volunteering work at school.

Eleven Year 8 students recently spent five days experiencing the challenges of life in a wheelchair to raise money for NSW Wheelchair Sports.

All the students are part of the Best Buddies program, in which able-bodied students are paired up with a 'buddy' who has a disability.

Student Michael George was behind the plan to give buddies' students a taste of life in a wheelchair.

Michael said he felt those in wheelchairs were discriminated against; having a friend in a wheelchair and also the experience of being in a wheelchair himself had given him a new perspective.

"They're human beings and they deserve to be talked to and have friends," Michael said.

All the volunteers agreed that being in a wheelchair was challenging.

Observations included how hard it was to get up ramps, finding themselves stuck in the lift and how physically demanding it was.

They stressed the importance of not judging someone by the fact they were in a wheelchair.

Sydney Secondary College head teacher Robin Riley said students were usually paired with a buddy that had an intellectual disability.

"However, due to us having students in wheelchairs, our Year 8 volunteers requested to be paired with them," Ms Riley said.

"This unique group of Year 8 students has astonished teachers and families with their enthusiasm and initiative."

The students organised a parent information evening for best buddies' parents and parents of the support unit students.

 "I can honestly say listening to the parents talking to each other was one of the most moving experiences of my career," Ms Riley said.

"Parents of disabled students are often very protective. Seeing them relate to the buddies' parents, and be happy their children are having the experience of the program, was very rewarding."

Other activities organised this year by the Best Buddies include:

  • raising money to sponsor a visit for Year 10 students by the Arrive Alive team, followed by a game of wheelchair basketball to raise awareness of the activities of the Wheelchair Sports Association
  • attending Best Buddies Leadership Day and reporting on it at school assembly.

Michael and his fellow student volunteers all recommend the Best Buddies program to others.

Photo by David Lefcovitch.

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More information

Balmain students taking part in the Best Buddies program.

Watch an audio slideshow about the Best Buddies program.