To give you an idea of how the island nation appreciates its seniors, an active ageing festival, organized and funded by the Council for Third Age (C3A), is held every year from August to November. That’s FOUR months of the year, not a 2-day weekend one-off obligatory programme as is the case in most places.
The money for Grandparents Day came from the Golden Opportunities Fund which was set up by C3A in 2006 with S$20 million (RM47m) with the objective of encouraging an active lifestyle among seniors. This year, the theme was on promoting inter-generational bonding. Says C3A chairman, Gerard Ee, 59, “Organizations are not made up of a single generation. A senior citizen who has kept himself or herself up to date has a lot of experience to impart that money cannot buy.” Here's a man who truly understands the value and worth of senior citizens.
In the coming days, there are public forums like “Healthy & Graceful Ageing” organized by the National Cancer Centre, and “Live Well, Look Great” seminar organized by OCBC and Parkway Health. There’s even a “Silver Infocomm Day” jointly organized by the InfoComm Development Authority (iDA) and the Retired & Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP). The event is aimed at equipping seniors with the know-how on blogging, shopping online and using Facebook for social networking. These public events are either free or for a nominal fee of S$10. Many include attractive goodie bags, lucky draws and high-tea. Not one to miss out on such an affordable opportunity to learn from the experts, I've signed up for one of the above.
Public events aside, there are several NPOs (non-profit organizations) in Singapore that were set up to help senior citizens in areas like health, employment, life-long education, community service and counselling. Besides C3A and RSVP, there is the Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE), Tsao Foundation, Healthy Ageing Association, Centre for Seniors, Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings) and the Gerontological Society of Singapore.
The government, on their part, has set up the Senior Citizen Network. It has 339 Senior Citizens' Executive Committees with more than 5,000 volunteers who organise wholesome activities for senior residents. Other initiatives aimed at helping the elderly with their problems include the Committee on Ageing Issues, and the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents. It has also passed into law the Maintenance of Parents Act and the Retirement Act. In 2004, the government introduced a grandparent caregiver tax relief of S$3,000 if an unemployed grandparent looks after a grandchild on a regular basis.
In January 2008 the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) launched the Silver Community Test-Bed Programme to encourage companies to develop elderly-friendly products based on functionality, viability and affordability. In August 5 companies were awarded grants of S$500,000 to develop the prototype of their winning inventions for testing over the next 6-12 months.
Recognizing that the silver (grey-haired) tsunami will soon hit every country, academic institutions here in Singapore are eager to get involved. The Singapore Management University recently kicked off their new Centre for Silver Securities with a seminar on “The Future of Silver Security: Coping with Crisis and Uncertainty”. Believe it or not, there's even a bona fide college for seniors. More than 800 seniors have graduated from the YAH! Community College. YAH stands for Young-At-Heart. Electives include singing, yoga and traditional medicine.
And that’s not all. There’s a magazine “PRIME” targeted at those over 45, a social club for seniors called the Silverhairs Club, a seniors’ drama group called The Glowers and a matchmaking club for singles over 40! A few weeks ago, the country held its first job fair for over-40s. More than 600 vacancies were available in the retail, food and beverage, services and healthcare sectors, among others.
Every year, C3A honours seniors over 60 who are an inspiration to fellow seniors by awarding them the title of Active Ageing Ambassadors. This year's seven winners include 61-year old Chua Chye Hong, an avid environmentalist and advocate of recycling; 70-year old Mdm Krishnavani, founder of the dance group Golden Gals for women over 40, and 69-year old Tang Wing Kee, community leader and certified inline skating coach.
It helps that Singapore’s Minister Mentor and first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, 85, is a strong advocate of active ageing. With him as a role model, it is no wonder that the country places such a premium on active ageing.
Our folks in Putrajaya, I hope you are taking notes.