A friend in need
Ow Tuck Choy is a busy man these days as he has 10 befriendees under him that he keeps a close eye on. As much as it prevents vulnerable seniors from further social isolation, he also gains in making new friends.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Before joining Fei Yue Community Services’ (FYCS) Community Befriending Programme nine months ago, 68-year-old Ow Tuck Choy was already doing his own informal befriending in his community. “My wife had passed away and I had retired in 2004 as a clerk in the airport, and I wanted to make new friends,” said the father of one, and grandfather to a little girl.
He would hang out for coffee with them and would even buy them lunch. One time, he took one of his befriendees, a woman in her 70s who walks around with an umbrella cane, to IMM Mall in Jurong. He smiled, “Her children don’t bring her out so she was more than happy to go out.” Even now being involved in a more formal befriending programme at Fei Yue, he still sees his five befriendees regularly, but now has added five others – four men and one woman. Most in his charges at Fei Yue’s programme are living on their own, one of them is a man who is the oldest amongst the five at 80s and another man who is blind.
Even though Tuck Choy walks around with a walking stick and suffers from glaucoma in his right eye, this has not stopped him from keeping up with his responsibility in visiting his befriendees in the Commonwealth area, where he lives, twice a month and usually for half an hour to one hour chatting with them and showing care towards them. As much as these simple acts mean a lot to his befriendees, who love him and are always looking out for him, he gains much: “I enjoy myself by talking to them and you get to love them.”
According to FYCS, he was the first to sign up for its Community Befriending Programme when it got started in July last year. Today, there are over 100 befrienders who are over 50 years old looking after 300 vulnerable seniors in five constituencies including Buona Vista, Yew Tee, Choa Chu Kang, Paya Lebar and Hougang. Fei Yue is not the only one who has such a programme, there are several other voluntary welfare and grassroots organisations who have their own Community Befriending Programmes in other constituencies in Singapore, including St Hilda’s Community Services, Filos Community Services, Jamiyah Nursing Home, Montfort Care, NTUC Health, and TOUCH Community Services. Many of these programmes are being supported by the President’s Challenge Silver Volunteer Fund, which promotes senior volunteerism.
Preventing social isolation
The Community Befriending Programme was rolled out initially by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in October 2014, first into three constituencies – Bukit Batok, Bukit Batok East and Taman Jurong. The programme has now grown to over 350 senior volunteers serving 580 vulnerable seniors in 33 constituencies. According to a Channel News Asia article in April 2016, the plan is to grow the befriending movement to 50 communities by 2020, which means more than 1,000 befrienders and some 3,000 befriendees.
The voluntary welfare and grassroots organisations pair the senior befrienders with the seniors living in their neighbourhoods. Besides regular visits with the befriendees, the befrienders also make phone calls to the seniors to make sure they are well. During their visits, the befrienders have a checklist where they look out for changes in the seniors’ mood, physical condition and living environment.
The befrienders also check to see if the seniors have taken their medication, and if they need assistance with day-to-day matters such as buying meals for them. The befriender would inform the befriending coordinator who would then follow-up on these needs. Such social networks formed can help seniors to keep a look out for each other and form close relationships with each other, and prevent social isolation.
For Tuck Choy, he couldn’t be happier meeting more new people. He receives an allowance of S$7 per visit, with a cap of S$42 per month, to cover transport and drinks. He also receives training beforehand which covers basic counselling, and skills on communicating and listening. As part of the befriending programme at FYCS, he also gathers with other befrienders every quarter to meet each other and share experiences.
One of his FYCS befriendees is 61-year-old Suhaimi Bin Mansoor, who is blind and used to live with his mother. But when she passed away, he was lonely and did not have much friends. He shared: “I look forward to Mr Ow’s visits and I wish he could come every week instead of twice a month. With him as my friend, I no longer feel so lonely.”
** If you too are keen to touch the lives of seniors as a befriender, here is a list of the organisations who have a Community Befriending Programme – www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/successfulageing/how-can-i-age-actively/volunteer/community-befriending-programme.html.