Making wishes come true
A youth movement called Project One More Thing helps fulfil wishes of neglected elderly.
BY: Eleanor Yap
We all have a wish that we would like to see come true. And more so the elderly from the hospices, daycare centres and poorer neighbourhoods. Two “fairy godfathers” – 23-year-olds Kenneth Yong and Joseph Tay, and their merry band of five core volunteers (from ages 18 to 25) have taken it upon themselves to see that those wishes really do come true.
Agelessonline uncovers their plans and reveals some of the interesting wishes:
Tell me how did this project get started? I understand it was actually a project started by the Rotary Club of Bukit Timah in 2003. Why were you drawn to this project?
During infoCommUnity, a community of social media practitioners in Singapore that hopes to use social media for good, the Rotary Club of Bukit Timah shared with us the “Staying Connected” project. This project matched volunteers and resources to the personal wishes of elderly living in homes, hospices and single-room HDB flats. Youth Without Borders (the non-profit organisation that we started) felt that this project aligned with our vision and mission, and thus volunteered to drive the project in May 2012.
Can you share why it wasn’t a success then?
We are not completely sure as we were not privy to the project back then, however what we do know was that it became hard to continuously coordinate activities due to a lack of social media tools during those days.
So how is your project different now? And why social media rather than maybe just a website?
Social media allows us to not only generate awareness about the stories of the elderly in these homes, as well as to canvass for support, whether it is for volunteers or donations in kind. We are able to engage and connect with our community in a much more effective way. A social media platform also makes things easier when you want to continuously engage and stay in touch with volunteers, and to arrange meetings, etc, to coordinate activities.
Tell me about your target group of elderly and what is so special about this group?
We feel that the elderly as a whole is a more neglected group of our society. Because children are cute and fun to play with, people tend to gravitate toward projects that involve kids. However, we felt that the elderly actually have much experience and many stories to share.
How many wishes have you fulfilled? And how many more waiting to be fulfilled?
I am proud to say that Project One More Thing has fulfilled 25 wishes over the past two months since we launched, but we have about 200 more waiting for people to fulfil. More wishes are also being gathered.
So how does the process go? You find out that an elderly has a wish, what happens then? How soon does the person get his or her wish? How often do the wishes come?
We gather wishes through organising visits to homes, where our volunteers get to meet and talk to the elderly personally.
After we get the wish from the elderly, we categorise them and put them onto our Facebook page so that the Project One More Thing community can volunteer their help. When putting up these wishes, we are careful to put only a limited number at a time, because our volunteer team is limited in terms of capacity. When people respond, we will arrange a common timing for the wish to be granted. This process can take up to one to two weeks, or maybe longer if we cannot find a common timeslot.
Are you the only group doing this work?
As far as we know, we are the only group focusing on the niche of fulfilling wishes for the elderly right now. Although we do know that there have been several initiatives of a similar nature in the past (including Staying Connected).
What are some of the wishes?
The wishes we have received are varied. Some of them are simple, such as playing mahjong or bringing them out to eat a plate of duck rice, while others are more complicated. One elderly’s request was to visit her family in China. We sent down a representative to talk to her, found a generous sponsor for her trip, and now we are just settling the final details of the journey. In such situations, we have to be very careful to look after the health and well-being of our beneficiary.
Unfortunately, not all elderly’s wishes can be fulfilled like the story above. Our project relies on the generosity of our community and we cannot take this for granted. So far, response has been enthusiastic, and all the wishes that we have put up have been answered.
Any interesting stories behind one of the wishes such as a long lost kin?
While there have been some interesting stories behind the wishes, including some very touching ones, we will respect the elderly’s privacy and not reveal them.
Besides Metta Welfare Association, what other elderly organisations do you work with?
We work with several homes and organisations, including the Society for the Aged Sick, Lee Ah Mooi Home for the Aged, and even the Central CDC who refers to us elderly living in single-room HDB flats.
What challenges have you faced with your project?
One of the challenges that we have faced since the start of our project is the lack of volunteers. We need volunteers not only to fulfil the wishes, but people to visit the elderly to collect the wishes, as well as people to plan and organise the whole project.
Other challenges that we have also faced is our inexperience in dealing with various groups of people. Some of us have been scolded because of miscommunication issues. However, we take all these as part of the process of growing and learning, and will keep trying to improve ourselves.
Why just connect with youth, what about maybe other seniors or anyone else who could help fulfil some of the wishes?
In fact, we do not restrict our volunteers to just youth to fulfil the wishes. Youth Without Borders wants to influence young people to serve in the community, but we also need the older volunteers to give mentorship and guidance, as well as help those of us who don’t speak dialects to translate!
Where do you foresee the project in the next five years?
We hope to fulfil at least 1,500 elderly’s wishes. We would like to expand our reach to encompass all homes and hospices in Singapore, as well as increase our volunteer base to 500 people with 50 leaders. These leaders will help to coordinate regular visits to the various homes to gather and post up wishes of the elderly. To do this, we are starting to reach out through school programmes. We have recently completed a short project with some students from Temasek Secondary School, where they visited All Saint’s Home to interact with the elderly and see if they can get some wishes. Although the students were initially shy, after the visit, they told us that they would like to visit the home again.
We would also like to streamline our process of gathering and fulfilling wishes. Currently, we are discussing with some developers to see if we can create an online platform to allow people to just go online and register wishes that they want to fulfil. This will allow us to handle a larger volume of people who want to grant wishes, and allow us to focus on interacting and gathering wishes from the elderly.
Anything you would like to add?
I just want to thank everyone who has supported Project One More Thing in the past two months since we launched the project, especially our volunteers who have to put up with our inexperience. Let’s continue to work together to make our elderly happy. They have spent their entire lives building everything that we have in Singapore today, and it is our duty to at least fulfil one wish for those who have sacrificed so much for us.