Driven to Serve

Of the many lessons COVID-19 has taught us; one crucial realisation was how indispensable our frontline workers are. At the Red Cross Day Activity Centre for the Disabled (DAC), located at Jurong West, where our team of therapists and volunteers work tirelessly to provide quality and professional care to our clients.

Yet, there is another group working quietly behind the scenes to support the operations of the DAC. Without them, families would grapple with much inconvenience having to fetch their loved ones to and from the centre, all while having to earn their livelihoods or manage their households. They are none other than our DAC drivers - comprising veterans Jamali Haribin, 45, who has a decade of experience working with the DAC; and Mohamed Saleh Sairi, 63, who is nearing his ninth year. 79-year-old Tan Ah Kow, who has been working at DAC for nine years, is my inspiration as he attests that age is no barrier to contributing to society. Rounding up the team is Muhammad Tahir, 60, and Muhammad Yusoff, 48, both of whom joined DAC in 2020.

Among the group, Jamali stood out as the Abang (big brother in Malay). When Jamali first joined 10 years ago, there was no one around to guide him along. Jamali challenged himself to learn on the job, picking up useful skills along the way. Now, this Abang works closely with Saleh to show the ropes to their juniors.

Safeguarding the well-being of clients

Their day starts a little before 8 am where they would be busy getting their vehicles ready.  With the new normal in play, they meticulously sanitise their vehicles' interior and exterior before and after fetching their clients, in accordance with cleanliness and hygiene standards. They then proceed to pick their clients up from their homes. To safeguard their clients, they also conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle, for instance, by checking to make sure that the clients’ wheelchairs are securely fastened to the floor rails. At about 4.00 pm, after all activities at the DAC have concluded, they fetch the clients back home. Work ends when the last client reaches home safely. 

On a typical day, each team of two drivers fetches about four to five clients. Collectively, the team clocks about 20 trips each day, inclusive of the return trips, which translates to an impressive 100 trips each week! 

Overcoming challenges

When asked about the difficulties they faced, Tahir lamented that at times, motorists would cut lanes while on the road and refuse to give way to them. 

“Though we are not emergency ambulances, we ferry our clients around. We also need to ensure our clients’ safety,” said Tahir. 

COVID-19 also brought on a new set of challenges and concerns to our drivers. Some clients provided feedback about how wearing face masks is uncomfortable for them. Though they worry about the discomfort caused to clients, they patiently explain the importance of wearing masks to ensure their clients and their families' safety. 

Through my interaction with the team, their passion, dedication and genuine care for the DAC clients shone through. However, their biggest strength is the ability to adapt. No problem is too big, and no concern is too small for them. Day in day out, they carry out their duties with a positive mindset, taking all challenges in their strides.

Uncle Tan said, “Nothing comes easy. With any job, you learn. After a while, nothing is difficult.”  

Forging rapport with their clients

Over the years, the drivers have forged a close rapport with their clients’ families, some of whom treat them like family. They have been invited to meals and received small tokens of appreciation. Despite their refusal, the tokens of appreciation would get shoved into their hands. It’s like a perk, they said, to be able to form close bonds with the clients and their family this way. 

While ferrying their clients back and forth, our DAC drivers would sometimes turn on the radio for their clients.

'“Our clients are just like us. They smile and ‘dance’ in their wheelchairs to the rhythm of their favourite song. They respond when you chat with them,” said Jamali. 

Everyone agreed. Tahir even told me about his client who sings!

After spending an afternoon with these affable uncles, I’ve gained a new-found appreciation and respect for those in the profession. Chatting with them about their experiences has inspired me to do more to contribute to society, beyond my full-time job in the healthcare sector and volunteering with the Singapore Red Cross.  

Afternote: Tan Ah Kow has since retired from his employment with the Singapore Red Cross. We wish him good health and all the best!  

By Abigail Tan, Volunteer
Photo by Lee Ju Kong

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