Well beyond retirement age, Mr Tan Bak Leng and his wife, Mdm Ng Kar Siat reside together in their four-room flat. Though they enjoy each other's company, there were times when loneliness hits, as their siblings and friends have passed on. Thankfully, ElderAid volunteers regularly visit Mr Tan and Mdm Ng, and the programme engages seniors such as Mr Tan and Mdm Ng in museum visits, activities, programmes, to enrich their lives while injecting fun and joy into their lives.
Eighty-two-year-old Mr Tan Bak Leng, a retiree, resides with his wife in their four-room flat. Mr Tan's first vocation as a construction worker was brought to an abrupt halt when a rod impaled his leg at a construction site. Following the accident, he could no longer engage in arduous manual labour. To earn a living, Mr Tan had been selling handmade fish balls at a stall in a wet market till his retirement.
Loneliness as a daily companion
Mr Tan often grapples with loneliness and isolation.
"My siblings have passed on due to old age. I have a few companions left. My wife, on the other hand, is more adapted to being alone," he says.
Mr Tan and his wife usually leave the house to attend weekly exercise sessions and keep themselves active and fit, and to also purchase groceries, but otherwise they spend their remaining free time alone at home.
ElderAid Volunteers bring about friendship
Fortunately, there was light at the end of the tunnel. In 2018, one of the Singapore Red Cross’ (SRC) volunteers paid Mr Tan a visit during a walkabout. The volunteers introduced and enrolled Mr Tan and his wife in the ElderAid programme. Now, ElderAid volunteers visit them monthly to check on their well-being while offering a listening ear, bringing the precious gift of friendship and company to the couple. Occasionally, the couple also receives care packages amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since their enrolment in the ElderAid programme, the couple has more opportunities to go out on outings. With the easing of restrictions, they had more opportunities to explore outside.
"Now, I stay at home less often. We have more opportunities to explore Singapore, e.g. watching plays at the Esplanade. We also engaged in interesting activities and games with other seniors at the void deck of Block 842 Tampines Street 82. Recently, we engaged in paper cutting, origami and making of glutinous rice balls at a Halloween event at the centre. There were several people there. I was very happy to be there,” Mr Tan fondly recounted.
He looks forward to the visits from volunteers and outings.
“I am really happy you guys interact with me, so I feel less lonely at home”, said Mr Tan.
Passion for befriending
Data engineer Alfrad Chew, 31, and software engineer Bruce Liu, 45, schedule time to visit Mr Tan monthly notwithstanding their full-time careers.
They engage the couple in conversations from a wide range of topics; ranging from local politics to the childhood games that they often played as children, and even the tastiest instant coffee with tips on where to purchase them at the most affordable prices.
Bruce and Alfrad encourage everyone to volunteer if they can.
“You can try volunteering. You can bring joy to the seniors who live alone, and keep their loneliness at bay,” said Alfrad.
“Some people may perceive volunteering to be a waste of time. But volunteering can be enriching and insightful. You may learn something that you may not be able to learn elsewhere," said Bruce.
By Sum Chung Wai, Marketing & Communications Intern
Copyedited by Michael Gutierrez, Volunteer
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