Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Seniors donating provisions to seniors in need.
Community activism - that's the new name for giving back to the community. An increasing number of senior citizens are turning community activists in volunteering their time and services to help their peers.

Instead of waiting for the government to launch initiatives, these senior activists are taking the lead in offering assistance to other seniors. It makes sense, for who would understand the problems of senior citizens better than their own kind? Who would communicate better with the elderly than members of their peer group?

Problem gambling prevention ambassadors helping to spread the antigambling
message to a punter at a betting centre. Photo: Straits Times

In Singapore, community activism among seniors is blossoming. Senior citizens are signing up for programmes that train them to help other seniors. One example is the Problem Gambling Prevention Programme run by the Young-at-Heart! Community College. Senior volunteers who sign up are trained as gambling prevention ambassadors. They visit betting centres and gambling joints to spread the message about the pitfalls of gambling, and also counsel gambling addicts.

Young-At-Heart! community health ambassadors visiting Mr Foong Keng Sung
in his two-room rental flat. Photo: Straits Times
Other groups of seniors visit the elderly at their homes and spend some time with them so they do not feel so lonely. Mr Chow Kong Wee, 72, is one such volunteer. Every week, he drops in at the rental flats of senior citizens who are suffering from problems such as dementia. He brings along pictures of places and objects from the distant past, such as old sewing machines and irons. These pictures act as memory triggers to start conversations.

The programmes have received positive feedback, with many of the elderly expressing a preference for peer group assistance. As they speak the same language, there is no communication barrier.

Senior citizens attending a computer class at the Young-At- Heart! Community College.
Photo: Straits Times
Another group helping out is RSVP (Organization of Senior Volunteers). This non-profit organization has trained 80 senior volunteers in information technology skills over the past five years, and they, in turn, have coached 7,282 senior citizens last year through IT courses held at the organisation's office.

Elsewhere, senior citizens are doing their bit on their own, volunteering their services at daycare centres for the elderly, and community centres for seniors. Click here to read the Straits Times report.

Volunteering to help others not only makes us feel useful, but also benefits us in many ways. Studies show a strong correlation between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. Older volunteers benefit the most. Volunteering provides them with physical and social activity and a sense of purpose. It gives them an opportunity to be a contributing member of their community.

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