Injecting Vibrancy into Seniors' Lives

Madam Jessie Leong, 83, battled cancer in her 40s, and retired early, leaving her with ample time on her hands. A widow, Mdm Leong believes that she would spend most of her time at home staring at her bedroom's four walls had it not been for her Singapore Red Cross (SRC) ElderAid Programme's Community Befriender, Madam Elizabeth Wong, in her seventies. They spend much time together, chatting, and participating in the ElderAid programme activities held occasionally at the Senior Activity Centre, and exploring attractions in Singapore. Their frequent interactions blossomed into friendship. Now, they lead a more vibrant and meaningful life together.

Mdm Jessie Leong, 83, first met Mdm Elizabeth Wong, who is in her 70s, at a Residents' Committee activity in 2014. In their interactions, Mdm Wong, who is also a Community Befriender with the Singapore Red Cross' (SRC) ElderAid programme, learnt that Mdm Leong is a retiree and a widow who had battled cancer in her 40s. 

Forging Friendships

In 2018, Mdm Wong invited Mdm Leong to attend a birthday party that the ElderAid programme was organising for the seniors. At the birthday party, one of the ElderAid volunteers suggested that Mdm Leong enroll in the programme as a beneficiary. Cognisant that a consistent stream of activities would benefit her given that she has ample time on her hands, Mdm Leong readily agreed. 

Mdm Wong and Mdm Leong hit it off from the get-go and became close friends. They currently meet about four to five times a week.

“Before enrolling in SRC's ElderAid programme, I would always stay at home. Now, when I am lonely, I will ask Elizabeth to go out with me. At least, I get to go out now," said Mdm Leong, who requires a wheelchair to get around for destinations with longer distances.

The pair spend their time exploring Singapore together – from concerts and ‘makan’ (meals) to movies, and Singapore’s newest attraction, Bird Paradise.

“We have so much in common to talk about. Our friendship blossomed. We know each other’s interests, likes and dislikes. We hang out together quite often,” said Mdm Wong, a retiree who started volunteering with SRC in 2015.

“I think of her more as a friend. I don't treat her as a volunteer,” said Mdm Leong.

Taking that first step

Such friendships and interactions are integral in encouraging seniors and persons with disabilities in our community to remain active while being mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically engaged. Mdm Wong encourages seniors to take that first step, quite literally, out of the house to participate in the activities at the senior centres.

“There is always the first step, which is to step out of your house,” emphasised Mdm Wong.

“You have friends all around you. If you just take that first step out of your house, you will have a different and more vibrant life. If you stay alone at home, you will find that physically and mentally, you may deteriorate,” Mdm Wong said.

Befriending is a win-win

Taking that first step was crucial, even for Mdm Wong herself. The mother of two grown children was motivated to become a Community Befriender in her retirement years. Her husband is an active SRC volunteer as well.

“Both of us were just sitting at home, doing nothing. By volunteering my time, I gain so much more by learning from the life stories and experiences of others," Mdm Wong.

She pointed out that it is common to encounter seniors who may be reluctant to leave their homes to participate in activities given the distance and the need to commute.

“I would visit their homes, and we would chat. Besides chatting, we engaged them in activities where they had so much fun,” said Mdm Wong, who often interacts with other SRC volunteers. 

“I find happiness interacting with the beneficiaries and the younger volunteers. I obtain new ideas from them while learning to see things from their perspective,” said Mdm Wong. 

By Jessica Lim, Volunteer

Copyedited by Nitisha Venkatachari, Volunteer

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