Active ageing & volunteerism

by | February 9, 2010

Being active, for example in volunteering, can give a boost to a senior and make his life more meaningful and satisfying.

BY: Ngiam Tong Yuen


Active ageing is a much talked about subject nowadays. So what is it? We can define is as “senior citizens living independent, active, healthy and satisfying lives”.

Achieving this requires a mindset change not only for seniors themselves but also for younger people. The traditional image of an old person is that he is frail and needs help from young people who are more robust. There is no doubt that some old people, those who are in their late 80s and older, who fall into this category. Even for this group, medical science has progressed far enough so that people stay healthy longer and generally live longer as well. In Singapore, 50 percent of us will live beyond 85. This means that newly “retired” people will spend more time in “retirement” than their parents and certainly, their grandparents.

These newly “retired” people have been identified with the “baby boomer” generation who are now entering their 60s. They are different from their parents – a high percentage of them received tertiary education, many of them are/were high-income earners. Many held/hold senior positions in their organisations. They are capable of many more years of productive work. For their generation, the word “retirement” has taken on a new meaning. “Retired” does not mean just a life of inactivity and waiting for the inevitable. Thus, a mindset change is beginning to take place in our country –  “active ageing” is emerging.

To be independent, the “Active Ager” needs to have some financial resources. When it comes to finance and money, one never has enough. Except for the poor, most people have sufficient means to support themselves and their spouses in some comfort. We should be thankful for this. Being healthy is mostly in our control. A stroll in East Coast Park on a Sunday morning will convince any doubter that Singaporeans are health-conscious – young and old are happily doing their thing. There was even a group of enthusiastic endurance athletes, both men and women, who having completed their bicycle rides were happily dashing into the sea for their swimming leg. This is not recommended for the majority of older people. We must exercise within our physical limits. Satisfaction is the end result of all we do. And we can do a great deal – learning a new skill, taking on a new career, perhaps at a slower pace than our previous jobs, travel, volunteer for a worthy cause and so on.

Volunteering is recommended for Active Agers. Why? Of all the things we do, volunteering is perhaps the one thing that is done mostly for a cause greater than ourselves. This allows us to fulfil some of our innate altruistic feelings. Helping another person in need or contributing to the solution of a societal problem produces a satisfaction that is priceless – it cannot be measured in dollars and cents. For many senior volunteers, it is “payback” time and they are happy to be doing it. Apart from this emotional satisfaction, there are also practical advantages of volunteering. He or she will make new friends. New ideas will be generated. The mind will stay engaged. This alone is valuable in keeping healthy. New skills will either be learned consciously or unconsciously. Volunteerism will allow you “to take charge of your life”. Many of us who have retired will have experienced the feeling of being “useless”. Volunteerism is an antidote that is guaranteed to work. The person or cause for which you are volunteering needs you … very much.

Where can you volunteer? Check the website of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). There are about 500 Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) in Singapore. They cater to a wide spectrum of interests and needs – from young children to elderly persons, from human to animal welfare, from medical issues to saving the environment and many others. If you have an interest that you think is not being catered to, you will be pleasantly surprised. Someone has already set up a society to promote this cause. NVPC has set up a section for episodic volunteering. As the name suggests, a person does not need to commit to a VWO for a long period. He or she will be called for specific events, for example, helping out at a fundraising event like a walkathon. Doing episodic volunteering is a good way to find out what you are interested in.

To end this article, mention must be made of RSVP Singapore – the Organisation of Senior Volunteers. RSVP’s forte is to promote volunteerism among senior citizens. At last count, it supported 10 different community projects ranging from mentoring for primary school children, befriending former patients of the Institute of Mental Health, promoting IT literacy among senior citizens, being senior ambassadors for Singapore at Changi Airport and conducting learning journeys for school students and other senior citizens. If you are above 50 and want to give volunteerism a try, why don’t you contact RSVP at or It will welcome you!


Ngiam Tong Yuen, 70, spends most of his time with RSVP Singapore – the Organisation of Senior Volunteers. He is an active volunteer on the Board and in a number of other committees. He also gives talks regularly on active ageing and volunteerism. A chemical engineer, he is currently a consultat in Workplace Safety and Health and he serves in various committees in the public and private sectors in hopes of keeping in touch with things technical, for example, he is honorary secretary of the Society of Loss Prevention.



  1. Han Sui Chin

    I totally agree with Mr. Ngiam’s article. Mr. Ngiam was a neighbour of mine when I was growing up as a child and remembered him as a friendly uncle who loves kids. Good to know that he is so actively involved with the senior citizens in Singapore.

    Volunteerism is giving back to society and in so doing we gain lots from the interaction.

    I live in London now, and at 58, I train vigorously everyday with the British Team, all half my age, in a nascent sport Slalom Inline Rollerblading through cones. I am helping the team to organise and get sponsorship for the next world competition in London this year.

    I volunteer as pro bono Legal Counsel to a Commonwealth Education Charity and another international charity trust fund. I am also an advance speaker for my local toastmasters club where I mentor new speakers for competitions..and basically is my vocal gym. Living an active life keeps me mentally and physically nimble.

    It is important that the older generation do not get isolated from the community as a whole. Betty Friedan, a Sixties Iconic Feminist worked with Harvard Gerontologists and compiled a book ‘The fountain of Age’ where she advocates a new revolution where the old Baby boomers should not isolate themselves in gated communities where they spend their days watching the grass grow and their peers die..but be proactive with the larger community of all ages, that will help them live a more balanced and healthy life.

    I return to Singapore each year, and am heartened to see how older Singaporeans are integrated within the community, whether it is working at Mcdonalds or learning a new skill at community centres. Valuing the wisdom and input of the seniors in our society is also key to developing a more inclusive and integrated community. Closing the age gap is vital for a more cohesive world.

    • agelessadmin

      Thanks so much for sharing.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *