It’s hard to beat first-hand experience to prepare someone for real life experiences. And for a group of students from the John A. Burns School of Medicine, that valuable experience comes as members of the group “Sunny Buddies”.
Sunny Buddies is a student-run community health organization that allows medical students to develop positive relationships with adult members of the community who have intellectual disabilities. The medical students gain valuable experience for their futures as doctors, while helping the “Sunny Buddies” to overcome challenges associated with their conditions.
To see more photos, click “Sunny Buddies Photos”
The program is designed to accomplish three things for the medical students who participate: (1) provide support, guidance, and friendship to adults with intellectual disabilities, (2) allow medical students the opportunity to gain skills in working and communicating with adults with intellectual disabilities, and (3) foster awareness concerning range of topics related to health and well-being of members of the community with intellectual disabilities. The students say “Sunny Buddies” provides much more than real-world experience.
“Without fail, my buddy makes at least one remark that challenges or calls into question some belief that I hold,” said Michael Tanael, a first-year medical student. “ His perspective on topics that have ranged from basketball to funerals has forced me to acknowledge that my beliefs—even some of those that I have long considered axiomatic—may not be as obviously right as I thought them to be, or, perhaps, wanted them to be.”
During the year, the students and their partners will meet up and practice social skills that will help the “Sunny Buddies” in the real world. At an annual “Spring Fling,” medical students, buddies, and their families gather to celebrate the year. This year, the celebration was at Aiea Bowl, where everyone was able to enjoy lunch together, before engaging in some friendly bowling competition. To hear the students tell it, the event was a huge success.
“My favorite part of Spring Fling would have to be just seeing my buddy Wendell enjoy himself bowling and eating his Garlic chicken,” said first-year medical student David Niumatalolo. “I was supposed to pick him up at about 11:45, and he called me two times that morning to remind me today about Spring Fling, so I know he was super excited to go to the event. And I could tell he really enjoyed himself because when I was driving home he was singing to the radio’s tunes all the way home, which he has never done.”
The “Spring Fling” was made possible thanks to a generous award from the Diversity and Equity Initiative (DEI) at the University of Hawai’i. The DEI funds projects that “address issues on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities and culture.”
Special Thanks to Andre Burnier who contributed to this story.
Photos courtesy of Taylor Soon-Sutton.