Saturday, November 29, 2008

TEACH OUR GRANDCHILDREN UNIVERSAL VALUES




The Mumbai carnage is yet another horrific wake-up call for us to increase our efforts at promoting peace and harmony. Prevention is always better than cure. A good starting point is at home, beginning with our children and grandchildren. We must teach them family values like love, respect, kindness, discipline, and compassion. As they grow up and their social circle widens, they must learn to apply these universal values in their interaction with other people – their schoolmates, colleagues and the community at large.





Children learn best when they have good examples to follow. It helps if parents practice what they teach to their children. What kind of models are we giving them if we, as adults, distrust or are suspicious of others of a different race or religion? Saying that we are all brothers and sisters is merely paying lip service when we do not follow up with action.




Parenting skills should go beyond learning how to deal with toddler tantrums and finicky eating habits. Likewise, teaching skills should cover much more than just imparting academic knowledge. We have to take our responsibilities of nurturing our children more seriously. If parents are too caught up with their career or business, then grandparents must take over. There's too much at stake. We cannot neglect the proper upbringing of our young.




Rather than hide the newspapers, turn off the TV or tell our grandchildren to look away whenever there are graphic images of war, poverty, or hunger, these images can be very effective in teaching them about the realities of life and about the consequences of our actions.



I am not advocating deliberately showing them pictures of human despair and horror, but should they come across them in the media and ask questions, we should tell them the truth at the level they are capable of understanding. But who are we kidding? Today's children are smarter than we think, and tougher than we give them credit for.



Terrorists were once innocent children who grew up in a home with parents and siblings. What turned them into fanatics and terrorists with little regard for life, whether it's their own or others? My guess is either they were not taught universal values from young, or were taught the wrong values.



World peace is attainable if we truly want it, and the time to act is NOW.


Monday, November 24, 2008

PROMOTING ACTIVE AGEING - THE SINGAPORE MODEL


Whenever I am in Singapore, which is pretty often, I can't help but envy my baby boomer counterparts there. They are a fortunate lot. The Singapore government deserves a pat on the back for its all-out efforts to improve the lot of the elderly. The private sector is not far behind in channelling their resources towards helping senior citizens there lead an active, healthy lifestyle.


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.


Yesterday 23 November was Grandparents Day. The event saw about 4,900 grandparents (many with their grandchildren) taking part in the activities which included a walk along the Esplanade, rides on the Singapore Flyer and live band performances.


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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

NEVER TOO OLD TO START ANEW


This post is specially for Godfrey Ooi, as promised, with acknowledgements to Mr P.M.Lal who shared with Ramleans these gems of wisdom in his talk "Reflections on Life" at the MIM-RAMLEA programme.



Good days give you happiness,
Bad days give you experience,
So never regret a day in your life.


Live life to the fullest
And make the most of the limited time you have.


Focus on the present.
The past is gone, and the future will unfold.


Have fun and enjoy everything you do.
If you say or do something wrong,
Don't hesitate to admit your mistake and apologize.


Look for and discover the best in everyone,
Never forget to say "Thank you" and "Please".
Use "we", not "I".


If there's something important and urgent to be done,
Go ahead and do it,
As nobody else is likely to do it.
Be PROACTIVE!

You can have, be or do anything you focus your mind on.
Visualize it and hold it in your mind from day to day.


NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give up.


Thoughts are powerful forces that can traverse not only space but also time.


Our destiny, indeed the whole universe, emanates from our thoughts.

Our minds are all connected, and we are really one with each other, and with the universe.


All knowledge, discoveries and inventions are in the universal mind, waiting to be tapped by your mind.


How old you feel is also in the mind.
So focus on health and youth.


Be grateful for what you have, and you are likely to attract more good things.


Don't worry about things outside your control.
Instead, focus on things you can change.


Don't be bogged down by negative thoughts and emotions.
Focus your mind on love, abundance, growth and peace.


The problems and challenges we face, whether as individuals, or as a global community,
Arise from our negative emotions of greed, anger, fear, attachment and ego.


Everything is energy. You yourself are energy.
Energy can't be created or destroyed.
It just changes form.
The pure essence of you has always been, and will always be!
Death, as we know it, is merely a transformation.



Sunday, November 16, 2008

THE MIM-RAMLEA EXPERIENCE (PART 2)

Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever.
~ Gandhi ~

We tend to emphasize the importance of having good health, but often overlook the importance of cultivating a healthy mind. At the MIM-RAMLEA workshop, Ms Choy Boon Ling and Ms Joanne Lee took participants through a meditation session where we learned how to calm our mind. Their presentation “Being Present to Self and Work” gave us an insight into how being mindful can positively impact our lives. (For more on this topic, do visit their Clove & Clive website. I also recommend reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now” and “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”. Both books are available at major bookstores.)

Participants listening attentively during the talks.


Others who spoke were Mr K.D. Raj on “Family Values”, Mr P.M. Lal on “Reflections on Life” and Dato Idris Jauzi on “Sustaining Nation Building”. Mr Raj shared this quote: “Educate a man, you educate an individual. Educate a woman, you educate a family”. Certainly food for thought. He encouraged us to develop values like family, industry, knowledge, compassion and optimism, and to spend quality family time together. Mr Lal asked us to look within ourselves to find answers to questions like “Are you functioning at your full potential? What determines your quality as a human being? What obstacles and challenges do you anticipate, and how will you overcome them to achieve your objectives?”


Dato Idris’ talk was a no-holds-barred session which centred on the problems facing the various communities in nation-building. Each community has its own fears and suspicions, but if Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, could get together in the right environment and with the right frame of mind, they should be able to discuss sensitive issues openly and in a civil manner. (No need to resort to chair-throwing, mud-slinging or calling in the police!)


To ensure that participants had the physical and mental stamina to cope with all the activities, there was an hour of qigong exercises each day led by a very capable Sifu Hoh. It was an opportunity for us to unwind and learn from Sifu Hoh how to harness our qi for optimal energy and health. I found his explanations and instructions easy to understand and follow. After our first session at the Lake Gardens, it was quite amusing to hear many of the participants groaning about creaky knees, stiff joints and sore muscles.


Breathe in, hold and breathe out.


Our field trip to the Lake Gardens and the visit to the MAB on Day 2 started on a note of mystery. Doris Chang, our very hard-working and efficient co-ordinator from the MIM secretariat, kept reminding us even before we boarded the bus that we must observe everything around us and take note of what impressions they had on us, if any. We were not exactly sure what she meant and what we were supposed to look out for. Everything became clear later that evening when we reflected on the day’s outing.


Aboard the bus enroute to the Lake Gardens.


Some of the observations:

- The worsening traffic congestion despite the government’s attempts at alleviating the situation
- The disharmony caused by the cacophony of loud pop music blaring from all corners of the otherwise peaceful surroundings of the Lake Gardens
- The poor maintenance of the herbal garden as evident in the lack of proper labelling of the plants.
- The lack of funds to support voluntary organizations like the MAB which badly needed some repainting and renovation work.


We brainstormed on where and how we could help as individuals and as a group. The result was a wish list and a pledge which one of the participants, Allen Kam, compiled into a powerpoint presentation for the closing ceremony.



Getting to know the herbs at the herbal garden.

On the final day at the closing ceremony cum dinner, each participant received a certificate of completion from YAB Toh Puan Norella Talib, widow of the late Tun Raja Mohar. Raja Mazhar Mohar gave a very moving and inspiring tribute to his father. Other VIPs included YAB Tun Hanif Omar, President of MIM, YB Tan Sri Osman Cassim, VP of MIM, YB Jen Tan Sri Dato Zain Hashim, Chairman of MIM, Dr. Thomas Knirsch, KAS Representative to Malaysia, Dr Wilson Tay, CEO of MIM and several members of the MIM Court of Fellow and General Council. Joint emcees for the evening were participants Balram Menon and his sister Padmini. They truly deserve a round of applause for doing such a splendid job.


Good food and great company!


Capt Francis Kerk receiving his certificate from YAB Toh Puan Norella Taib.

As part of the evening’s entertainment, participants went on stage to belt out three songs with much gusto. Musical accompaniment was provided by Godfrey Ooi on his guitar. The bolder ones managed to get the VIPs onto the makeshift dance floor. When it was time to say goodnight, there were hugs all round and promises to keep in touch.



Group photo of the participants and the VIPs.


The MIM-RAMLEA programme aims to help participants “find purpose and direction in their golden years, so that they can play a more active role in community development, and put their wealth of knowledge and experience to good use”. Did MIM-RAMLEA 2008 achieve this noble objective? Is it going to be all talk and no action for the participants? Or are they going to walk the talk? It would be interesting to find out at the MIM-KAS Evaluation Workshop to be held on 22 November.


I attended the programme to seek confirmation of my life’s purpose, and to network with like-minded senior citizens. I am glad to say that for me personally, the programme was a resounding success on both counts.



Thank you, MIM and KAS!



MIM-RAMLEA 2008 participants:

Allen Kam Cheng Boo, David Sim Huay Chuang, Diana Sim, David Yee Cheok Hong, David Chay Kah Chan, Balram Menon, Yuen Wee Mee, Padmini Menon, Devaraj FW Daniel, Chuah Guat Hiang, Sylvia Tan Hooi Sien, Koeh Siew Lim, Olivia Daniel, Francis Kerk Tuat Gim, William Chang Wei Say, Lee Eh Hock, Lily Fu, Toh Li Li, Jack Lim, K Nadasapillay, Sarojini Devi A/P Muniady, Wong Suit Ching, Low Soi Wah, Tee Kai Ming, Lee Kim Tow, Rajamanickam A/L Packrisamy, S. Thirunanvukkarasu A/L Subramaniam, Godfrey Ooi Goat See, Mohd Ali Mahmood, Syed Hanafi bin Syed Hassan, Harjit Kaur A/P Khera Singh, Zainal Abidin Yahya



Thursday, November 13, 2008

THE MIM-RAMLEA EXPERIENCE (PART 1)


"Helping retirees find a purpose in their golden years" - the line caught my attention while browsing the papers over breakfast one morning. It was an open invitation for Malaysians aged 50 and above to participate in the MIM-RAMLEA Life Enrichment program organized by the Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM) and supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Germany.


It was right up my alley as I wanted confirmation of my life's purpose. I immediately sent in my application and was fortunate to be among the 30-odd men and women selected for the residential programme which ran from 16-19 October, 2008 at the Flamingo Hotel in Ampang.


The Raja Mohar Life Enrichment Awards (RAMLEA) Programme is named after the late YABM Raja Tun Mohar bin Raja Badiozaman. who served as the second MIM President. The program was launched in December 2004. This year marks the 5th batch of graduates of the program.


It was an intensive four days of talks, discussions, field visits and fellowship, beginning at 8.30am with the first talk of the day, and ending at 10.30pm with a group discussion and reflection. The exception was Day 1 when the morning was given over to registration and arrival of participants from other states. The opening address was delivered by Ms Margaret Soo, COO of MIM. This was followed by a speech from Dr Thomas Knirsch, KAS representative to Malaysia. A note of appreciation to Dr Knirsch for taking time off his busy schedule to join the participants each day. The program was chaired by Encik S. Hadi Abdullah and facilitated by Mr Dominic Joseph.


Dr Knirsch addressing the participants. Sharing and reflecting on the day's learning.

The particpants came from all walks of life. The common denominator was their age group. All were retiring or retired senior citizens, with the oldest aged 70. We were there probably for the same reason - to find out how we could render our services to society in our retirement years. To help us discover our purpose in life, the MIM-RAMLEA program raised our awareness in areas such as community development, environmental conservation and volunteerism.


A week before the program started, participants were sent a collection of required readings centred on Universal Values and Human Renewal. These included extracts from the speeches and writings of world luminaries like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Hans Kung, Amartya Sen, Konosuke Matsushita and our very own Harun Hashim. I found the readings intellectually stimulating. To those wanting to work for the betterment of society, it was imperative that they understood universal values such as human rights, rule of law, and global ethics.
We had group discussions to brainstorm each of the readings, and came up with a list of 15 universal values and 15 concerns that mattered most to us as fellow Malaysians. Top of the list for universal values (in no particular order) were integrity, love, compassion, understanding, respect, and wisdom. Corruption, disharmony, poverty, environmental degradation, injustice and indifference were among the main concerns.


It made sense to me personally, that before we could even begin to help others, we should start with ourselves. Do we have the right mindset, the right attitude and the right attributes to embark on a mission to help the less fortunate in society? How serious are we in volunteering to help? Do we know enough of what's at stake? If our answer to all these questions is no, then our contribution in terms of our dedication, time and effort will not be sustained.


To this end, the talks covered a wide range of topics. Ms Margaret Chang and Ms Masriah Dahlan introduced us respectively to the work of NASAM (National Stroke Association of Malaysia) and SALAM (Yayasan Salam Malaysia). The two presentations exposed us to the selfless work done by non-governmental organizations. We also paid a visit to the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB). The latter was an eye-opener for many of us. We wondered whether we had the same level of commitment and passion shown by Puan Rosnah Alimuda. She spent 35 years of her life teaching visually-impaired children to read, write and count using Braille.




Emailing and enjoying online entertainment is not a problem.


Participant Godfrey Ooi, who is also MAB Deputy Executive Director, reading from a Braille book.

Dr Tarcisius Chin, former CEO of MIM, spoke on how to prepare for our retirement. This included advice on healthy living, a topic that was expanded on by Ms Doreen Ong in her talk "Your Body, Your Health". Participants were given a basic test to check their vital statistics for optimal health. Imagine our shock when we were told that the majority of us (including the thinnest) were classified as obese! It was truly a wake-up call for us to take better care of our health.

Dr Tarcisius Chin (left) and Encik Hadi Abdullah.

(To be continued: the MIM-RAMLEA Experience Part 2.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

ARE FILIAL CHILDREN A DYING BREED?


Working to make ends meet for this senior citizen.

At a recent workshop I attended for retirees, one of the speakers was visibly upset by an article he had read in the local papers the day before. It was a news report of adult children chasing out their parents from the family house that rightfully and legally belonged to their parents.

Apparently, this is not an isolated case.


One of the core virtues enshrined in Confucianism is filial piety - the duty of adult children to care for their elderly parents. Unfortunately, this virtue is on the decline, even in China. The Chinese government had to step in with threats of public shame, fines and imprisonment for those found guilty of neglecting their elderly parents.

It's no different across Asia. In India, the government has passed the Senior Citizen Act, 2007, as an answer to the insecurities faced by older persons of the country. This Act accords prime responsibility for the maintenance of parents on their children, grand children or even relatives who may possibly inherit the property of a Senior Citizen.

In Singapore, the Maintenance of Parents Act was introduced in 1995, which makes it a legal obligation for children to maintain their parents. In 2006, 347 enquiries were made at the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents, up from 295 in 2004.



In Malaysia, the number of elderly parents ending up in old folks homes and shelters has increased over the years. Unlike in Singapore, adult children are not legally bound to provide care and maintenance for their elderly parents. This comes as no surprise though, as our country is always slow to act or react.

So, is filial piety becoming extinct? Thankfully, no. Last Sunday, I spent a delightful afternoon with three of my former high school mates, one of whom had invited us over to her house in the Taman Seputeh neighbourhood. It was a house straight out of Beautiful Homes magazines. Her son had bought it as a birthday gift for his parents. For most Chinese, providing a home for their parents is considered one of the cornerstones of filial piety.

The koi pond at Siew Hoey's lovely Japanese-themed house

Not everyone can afford such gifts for their parents. Nor do parents expect them. To my grandaunt family visits are the best presents. I am blessed that my two daughters and my sons-in-law are loving, caring and generous to a fault. They spoil me with holidays abroad and pick up the tab for all my medical expenses.

It takes very little to make our parents feel loved and happy. A phone call to ask how they are doing, a small gift of their favourite snacks, spending quality time with them, a warm hug now and then - all these don't cost much, but the joy they bring to our parents is priceless.