Community service – something that the local schools try hard to imbue in their students, but we rarely wanted to do it out of our own will. Now that I’m out of that system, though, any community service that I do would largely be a personal decision to commit my time to it.
It was a busy week despite the thick haze that descended upon my little country Singapore, and many pre-planned activities had been cancelled, but I’m really glad this one wasn’t. A chance meeting with someone within the organising committee of the Community Service Marathon 2013 – a nation-wide 2-month philantrophic affair – led me to find out about an activity to bring some elderly folks from TP Healthcare to visit the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM).
TP Healthcare is 365 day rehabilitation centre providing rehab therapy, day care, nursing care, home care and transport services.
I’ve only met one of my grandparents in my lifetime, and even then, I don’t remember much of her up until her passing when I was still a young kid who was utterly afraid of death. When I was in primary school, we had school-initiated visits to Lions Home for the Aged (now renamed Lions Home for the Elderly) about once a year, from Primary 4 to Primary 6. I felt that those trips were quite unfruitful; we didn’t really talk to the old folks ‘cos we didn’t know how to even approach them, and the old folks were mostly busy sleeping or simply staring back at us as if we were unwelcomed visitors. The next time I had some interaction with the elderly was when I signed up to do some volunteer work (as part of a compulsory requirement in the freshmen year at Singapore Polytechnic) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where quite a number of the patients were aged. This one was a little tricky because of the social stigma that came with not just the mental patients but even the institution. Even though the fortnightly visits to IMH went as well as the regular volunteers had planned, when I’d completed my minimum required hours, I left the place feeling very dreary. I think it was how barren the buildings looked, the lack of people who were not patients being in the area, and how it felt like a halfway point between prison and hospital, with all those security points, double-doors and thick metal gates and window grilles. So when I signed up for this activity with TP Healthcare, I had a constant worry that something wouldn’t be right.
But all that was gone when I met my partner for the day.
I started my introducing myself and on the journey there, I found out some things about her, like her age, where she stayed, that she lives with her husband who still has a job, and that she was born in Singapore (That’s really interesting to me because on both sides of my family, my grandparents were born in their native country (Indonesia) then moved to Singapore where they had my parents. And many of my friends’ families also have it this way.) Unlike most of the elderly folks that we were taking with us that day, Mdm Napiah didn’t need a wheelchair. She was constantly walking really fast – as she grabbed my hand for support, it felt as if she was dragging me, as if she was the one guiding me, not the other way around! My first little challenge was that she didn’t speak or understand English, but we were going to be slotted with the English-language tour, so I had to translate everything the museum guide said into Malay for her. I’ve never been fluent with conversational Malay despite it being my mother tongue; I’m just more comfortable with speaking in English. Thank goodness, though, that I could tell when Mdm Napiah was interested (or not at all interested) in a certain exhibit, so I could pick which points to translate for her that she may be keen to hear.
Mdm Napiah seemed to have enjoyed viewing the exhibits as much as I had. I love history, and this petite old lady certainly had enough curiosity in the artifacts to comment after every time I translated and explained something for her. It was a thoroughly fun time walking through the museum with her, with the only slight exception that due to her height (and speed!) I had to walk and stand with a bent back so that she could hold my hand comfortably and that we could hear and speak to each other gently. I didn’t mind it at all, it’s not every day that I get to walk a gentle old lady.
We arrived at the museum later than scheduled, so we were forced to hasten our tour in order for the elderly to have their lunchtime meals at their daily specific 12pm timing. After which we had some time while waiting for the transport back to TP Healthcare to arrive, and the CSM organisers took a few photos of the volunteers and their charges.
We had a debrief upon arriving back at TP Healthcare and sending our charges back to their respective units indoors and away from the bad air. My best takeaway from this fruitful morning was that age wouldn’t matter if you had an open mind to remain curious and young-at-heart, and accept the right help to stay happy and healthy in both mind and body :)
All the photos have been taken off Community Service Marathon 2013’s Facebook page. (This must be the first time I’m uploading a post full of photos but none of them are mine!)