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Chicken Soup for the Volunteering Souls
Social Service Volunteers Campaign 2002

 

 
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Chicken Soup for the Volunteering Souls

 

~ An Afternoon With The Bukit Merah Befrienders ~

"How am I going to start the conversation?" That was the thought in each of us with every step that brought us closer to the Thong Kheng Seniors Activity Centre at Bukit Merah. For many of us, this was the first time that 14 young undergraduates would be coming into close contact with members of the elderly, with the exception of our own grandparents.

From afar, we saw a crowd of elderly people gathered together and waiting for our arrival. On closer look, they were all staring at the images and subtitles on a large TV screen, while one of them tried to impress the rest with her vocal talent. To us, it was just a karaoke session; to them, it was entertainment for a whole Wednesday afternoon.

They were amused to see us, just as we were to see them. Our arrival seemed to have brought smiles to the faces of some of these elderly folks. Before any words were exchanged, we headed for the General Office for our briefing. We were quick to give one another our immediate impressions of the elderly. The fear that we were outnumbered 5 to 1 was apparent, but this was quickly dispelled when we learnt that Cantonese was the common dialect spoken, and almost none of us could speak a word of it !

Fortunately, the ice was soon broken when we were introduced to the elderly residents, with much thanks to the Cantonese-conversing Reginia and Liesbet. In the midst of the karaoke session, we dispersed ourselves in the sea of old folks. Soon, the language barrier was broken. The volunteers chatted in Mandarin, peppered with a dash, of dialect here and there. The elderly replied mostly in Cantonese, with a few of them speaking English and Mandarin. The most important thing was that we gradually felt at ease with one another.

In the short while that I spent with Mdm Yeng, I learnt that she did not marry and was contented to live alone in her recently renovated flat above the Senior Activity Centre. Although she was in her 70's and still very much active, she told me that she seldom cooked, and chose to buy lunch and dinner from the nearby coffeeshop.

After a short tea session, we proceeded to play games, It was very surprising to see the old folks spring to action, as instructions were given for them to sit in a circle. They may be old, but indeed, they were very young at heart. As I guided Mdm Yeng and her friends in a round of Bingo, I saw their happiness shine though. The prizes we offered were secondary to them; it was the joy we brought to them during the 2 hours that mattered.

I was extremely delighted when Mdm Yeng managed to win a prize in the Bingo session. I could see how grateful she was to have us entertain them that day. Smiles and laughter accompanied the parcel that was passed round in the next game. It was a rare chance to see some of the elderly in action before they received their prizes. Although they only performed some simple dancing steps, they were glad to receive the warm applause from their fellow residents and us volunteers.

Before long, we learnt that it was almost time for the elderly to return to their serene lifestyle. We distributed goodie bags to them amidst the friendly farewells. To them, this afternoon would leave lots of memories for them to talk about the next time they met. For me, this afternoon has left lifelong memories for me to tell my grandchildren, and has made a permanent volunteer out of me with the Bukit Merah Befrienders.


Mr Mervyn Sek was the Chairperson of the NUSSU Volunteer Action Committee in 2000/01. An Economics Honours student at NUS, he always has time for volunteer work despite his studies and other student activities. Having been an active volunteer since his secondary school days, he currently spends his Saturdays with intellectually disabled children at the MINDS Guillemard Gardens School. He hopes that more people will overcome their initial fears so as to spend their leisure time with the less fortunate.

 
 
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