From Befriender to Befriendee

From Befriender to Befriendee

Caption: Seniors Chin Lai (left) and James Tan (right) share a special bond, having journeyed together as befrienders

Mr Ng Chin Lai, 71 and Mr James Tan, 78, are inseparable. In the past, Chin Lai would take bus trips together with his buddy James, from the start to the end point, exploring new landmarks and going on food trails.

As the two seniors from TOUCH Senior Activity Centre (TSAC) in Geylang Bahru live near to each other, they became good friends over the years, bonding through the centre’s activities and frequent meet ups. Their friendship further deepened as they were paired as befrienders seven years ago under TSAC’s Seniors Caring for Seniors (SCS) programme, where seniors are mobilised and trained to meet the psycho-social needs of vulnerable seniors.

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Caption: Chin Lai (right) then a befriender with TSAC staff Mr James Lee (left)

Their DNA to help others
“I knew that Chin Lai would make a good befriender from the start. The both of us think alike and helping others is in our blood. The way we talk, smile and laugh – we are like brothers. We complement each other’s strength - I can speak English while Chin Lai is good in Mandarin,” said Mr James.

As a child, Chin Lai had to fend for himself and his siblings when his parents passed on. Since then, his mantra in life has always been to serve others. Despite going through an operation with steel bars inserted into his head in 2006 - and after told the success rate was only two percent - Chin Lai remained a fighter who persevered in his will to live. And when he miraculously recovered, he assumed the role of a befriender, always on a lookout for neighbours who needed his help.  Whether it was to accompany them to the hospital or bringing food to the elderly, Chin Lai was always ready to serve with a smile.

Helping till the end
Three years ago, Chin Lai's health deteriorated and he started having difficulties walking and talking. His memories started to fail too. TOUCH staff then advised Chin Lai to rest and to take a break from his befriending role. Immediately, James quickly stepped in as his befriender.

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Caption: Chin Lai (left), his wife Mdm Ang (middle) and James (right) enjoying their breakfast together

“I will always look after Chin Lai. He’s my buddy. As my befriendee, I care even more for him now. We are like superglue! I always believe no matter how old you are, you can still do something for others. Serving as befrienders together has reminded me that one day, we will also become old. Chin Lai’s experience has uplifted me. He has made so many sacrifices for others. Now it is my turn to help him; it’s the natural thing to do,” added James.

“Although Chin Lai can’t really talk much, he will answer a resounding ‘Yes!’ when you ask him if he wants to be a befriender,” quipped James.

Every day, James would have breakfast with Chin Lai and his wife, Mdm Ang Kim Hong, 65, at the Geylang Bahru Market Centre. Mdm Ang is grateful to have James around as her husband now spends most of his time at home. Despite his condition, Chin Lai is observant. He would keep an active lookout for James from his block, and would tell his wife whenever he sees him walking downstairs.

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Caption: TSAC’s SCS equips senior befrienders with relevant skills and knowledge to feel confident in connecting with vulnerable seniors and to identify their needs

Empowering and activating seniors to impact lives
Started in August 2013, the SCS provides an effective point of help and support for the frail and vulnerable elderly in the community.  They are matched and deployed in pairs for weekly home visits. Befrienders are taught how to understand seniors, manage wheelchair transfers and observe home condition and look out for signs of deterioration. TSAC also conducts ongoing learning opportunities through weekly workshops and social activities for its volunteer seniors to refresh their knowledge and build team bonding.  Under the SCS Project, some 60 seniors have been trained to befriend 50 frail and homebound seniors.

Story published in 2019.
Updated in 2021.