Heart and Soul of an ElderAid Volunteer

Ravis Cherry Tan has always taken an interest in volunteering. 

Enthused about giving back to the community, she heeded the Singapore Red Cross’ (SRC) call to be a first aider during its recruitment drive in 2014.

Since then, Cherry has been very involved in SRC’s local community activities. Today, the 47-year-old volunteers actively under the ElderAid programme. Every fortnight, Cherry and a fellow volunteer conduct home visits, befriending elderly residents, and engaging them on their social-emotional needs. When there are unmet needs, she directs the seniors to various assistance schemes that are readily available in the neighbourhood, or other signature SRC services such as Family LifeAid, TransportAid, and HealthAid (Home Monitoring and Eldercare & Community Health on Wheels). 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ElderAid volunteers would take the lead in organising monthly cooking demonstrations for the elderly beneficiaries, in collaboration with Our Tampines Hub (OTH). Cherry and the other volunteers would fetch the seniors to the venue, accompany them throughout the cooking demonstrations and meals, and fetch the seniors home.

More than meets the eye

Recalling her first home visit, Cherry was faced with a spanking clean home with an enormous television set. It had seemed the senior was well-adjusted, but upon closer interactions,  she realised it was not the case. 

Citing that example, Cherry explained that some seniors were not homeowners, but tenants. Even the elderly who live with family may not be on cordial terms with the occupants. There was always more than meets the eye, and only with rapport can she uncover their true needs. 

Once, an elderly shared with Cherry that she usually has late breakfast that doubles up as lunch, in order to stretch her meal. That comment hinted at financial struggles and warranted more fact-finding. 

She quipped, “Our seniors have pride, and rarely open up to strangers about the dire situation they are in. We must earn their trust, and be there for the long run. More often than not, they just want to be heard.”

Friendship hotline

Currently working in a home for the aged, Cherry is naturally attuned to unspoken needs and empathetic to her charges.  

She shared that Phase One of the Circuit-Breaker last year was particularly distressing for the elderly. The multiplier effect of social isolation was acutely felt when they had to stay at home and could not carry out their usual routines. Cherry empathised with their vulnerability and the toll of the circuit breaker on their mental health. 

Back then, she received multiple calls from her elderly beneficiaries, and listened to each one patiently, tending to grouses and all. She was on hand to provide emotional and psychological support and to gently remind them to wash their hands and wear their masks if they had to leave their homes.

“As the elderly are living on their own without anyone caring for them, I felt responsible for sharing with them the importance of maintaining good hygiene and complying with the social distancing measures,” Cherry explained.

Though some may be apprehensive about spending time with the elderly, Cherry is enjoying every minute of it. She felt enriched by her interactions with the elderly, whom she regards as her friends. 

She goes the extra mile to help, getting their groceries, and even changing their light bulbs. 

For her steadfast dedication, Cherry, who also serves under SRC as a citizen first responder, received the Commendation Award at the Singapore Red Cross Awards Ceremony in 2017. 

The feeling is mutual

Cherry, who is also Vice President of East District - Red Cross Club and Vice Chairperson of East District Community First Aid, was very touched when one of the seniors showed her a newspaper clipping of her work at the SRC. The senior had recognised Cherry, read the story and cut it out for keeps. The small gesture demonstrated the fondness these elderly have for their volunteer befriender. 

“It is heartening to know we are making a positive difference! This is enough satisfaction and motivation to keep pressing on,” she smiles.

Cherry believes SRC’s training has given her useful knowledge and practical experience to serve effectively for the ElderAid programme. Thankful for the volunteering opportunity, she hopes more people will step forward and reach out to the elderly in our community.

Wistfully, Cherry says, “I will be old one day. I hope that the younger generation will befriend and interact with me then.” 

By Tracy Lam, Volunteer

ElderAid is a befriending and wellness programme that reduces vulnerability and enhances resilience, to achieve a community ageing-in-place. Find out moreVolunteer with us today.