Volunteers in Clementi help seniors fight loneliness amid Covid-19 pandemic

SINGAPORE – They took the vaccination shots they were supposed to, remained at home as told, and minimised contact with others.

But for some seniors, staying safe has led to bouts of loneliness.

Volunteer groups and senior activity centres in Clementi noticed that and started reaching out to them.

Ms Angie Chen, 47, who started volunteering with Lions Befrienders in January this year, visits two elderly women in the estate to provide social and psycho-emotional support.

She is particularly concerned about one of them, who lives alone and is more frail.

“I can see that she is lonely,” said Ms Chen of the woman, who is in her 80s.

“She would talk about her family, her late husband, her children and things that she did as a child. She would also talk about her current illnesses, pains and aches.”

But due to Covid-19 safe management measures, Ms Chen is not able to visit her frequently. During her visits, she has occasionally helped with errands and picked up groceries for her, but the senior is often reluctant to ask for such help and would also insist on paying her back.

“The elderly woman has aches and pains, so it is hard for her to walk a long distance. And with the pandemic, it is a bit harder for her,” said Ms Chen.

Every Tuesday afternoon, the Lions Befrienders senior activity centre at Block 366 Clementi Avenue 2 hosts a jamming session for seniors in the estate.

Led by music therapist Evelyn Lee, 37, who plays the guitar, the seniors hit drums, play the xylophone and shake tambourines to the beat of Mandarin, Hokkien and Teochew songs from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The social service agency started the music therapy session in November for the seniors, who are unable to leave home often because of the pandemic.

Ms Lee said: “Group music therapy allows seniors to explore relationship building, and can be a source of mutual support, reducing isolation and leading to greater self-understanding and self-expression.”


Tan Yeok Lang (right) and Koh Choon Whai (left) with music therapist Evelyn Lee (centre) during a music therapy session on Nov 16, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
 

They host five seniors per session.

Madam Tan Yeok Lang, 94, who took her booster shot in October and has been with the senior activity centre since it opened in 2018, said: “I look forward to joining other activities as I will have the opportunity to socialise with other seniors and not feel lonely.”

Over at the Sasco senior daycare centre at Block 704 West Coast Road, staff accompany the 70 seniors there on virtual tours through Silver Pad – a senior-friendly tablet which the seniors have been using since March this year.

They use it to explore historical Singapore or go on a “tour” of housing estates in Clementi and Changi.

Centre manager Veronica Oh said that before the pandemic, staff would take the seniors on outings to places such as the zoo, museums or the Botanic Gardens.

She said: “The seniors at the daycare centre miss outings, outdoor activities with the volunteers and festive celebrations.”

Besides going on virtual tours, seniors also use the tablet to read and play cognitive games.

Madam Chue Fei Sin, 75, and her 80-year-old husband Low Poh Hong, a retired ship mechanic, look forward to going to the centre, about 5km from their home, every day.

Madam Chue, who has been fully vaccinated since April and is waiting to take her booster shot, said in Mandarin: “There are a lot of activities to participate in. It’s very fun and I feel like a happy child every day.”

Madam Ng Yuet Ngor, a 70-year-old who has been going to the centre since September 2017, said: “Staying at home is boring and nobody talks to me. At least when I go to the centre, I can talk to the other seniors.”

Another volunteer group, Antioch Mission, has been distributing food and groceries to seniors and other residents at Blocks 366 and 367 Clementi Avenue 2 since December 2019.

The group’s founder Adalena Koh, 49, said it has about 20 volunteers, including her fiance, private-hire driver Ronald Chiaw, 58.

They distribute food to residents weekly. They also give out household items, such as detergent and shampoo, to the residents twice a month. The items are from private donors and organisations such as the Inner Wheel Club of Singapore.

One of the volunteers, housewife Dayana Besi, would rope in her children, aged 11, seven, six and four, to distribute the items to their neighbours.

The 35-year-old has been volunteering with Antioch Mission for two years.


Ms Adalena Koh (centre) with her full time volunteer cum partner Mr Ronald Chiaw (left), giving out the food and groceries to Mdm Dayana Besi. Mdm Dayana helps to look after and monitor the seniors in the estate. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

“I take my children along, so they will learn how to give. Instead of receiving (donations) every time, it is also nice to give to others,” said Madam Dayana, who used to receive help from Antioch Mission.

Madam Dayana added that her children learn to interact and communicate with neighbours while volunteering.

One beneficiary, housewife Hadijah Ibrahim, 71, whose husband has liver problems and son has Down syndrome, said: “It helps to lighten my burden. With the groceries that she has given, such as rice, bread and shampoo, I don’t need to buy them.”

Besides distributing necessities, Ms Koh also believes in providing care and companionship for the seniors.

She said: “We spend time with these seniors. They also need a listening ear.”

When Ms Koh saw that the seniors were feeling depressed from staying at home all day during the pandemic, she and her volunteers took them out for meals and walks at the beach and garden.

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She said she understands their challenges – she was diagnosed with autoimmune disease in 2009 and had to use a wheelchair for five years.

She added: “I can speak the same language as them because I was once a person in need myself.

“So when I am able to help some of these people lighten some of their burden and bring them joy now, I feel happy.”

There are others working to keep neighbours safe from Covid-19. Tell ST about the experience in your estate.

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