Caption: Befriender Mdm Sapiah (left), 63, and befriendee Mdm Alice Tan (right), 67, bonding over one of their weekly aqua aerobics sessions organised by TOUCH in partnership with ActiveSG under the ActiveSG Active Master Aqua FunFit Programme.
“Nothing beats being in the company of my peers and volunteering together with them. I feel like my life has more purpose now. When other seniors see us, they will feel more confident to help in their own ways.”
From a recipient to a giver
During her younger days, Madam Sapiah used to spend four hours each day on the soccer field, perfecting her moves for tournaments. Her world then revolved around work and soccer.
She then got married, had children and started to focus on her family. As the years passed, Mdm Sapiah’s health started to worsen as she suffered from a range of chronic ailments, putting a pause on her sporty lifestyle. She retired at the age of 55. Life became tougher when Madam Sapiah became the sole caregiver to her husband, who passed on in 2021.
Caption: Mdm Sapiah pointing to one of her favourite soccer team photos
The 63-year-old widow now lives alone in Geylang Bahru. Her two children live elsewhere.
“The feeling of loneliness made me feel depressed. I kept thinking of sad things and felt helpless,” said Mdm Sapiah.
The turning point
Not long after, Mdm Sapiah bumped into Mdm Maria Yee in her neighbourhood. Maria had been her son’s tutor three decades ago when he was in primary school. As an active senior at TOUCHpoint@Geylang Bahru, Maria invited Mdm Sapiah to join the activities at the centre. She also flagged Mdm Sapiah’s case to the centre staff.
Soon, Mdm Sapiah joined the Seniors Caring for Seniors (SCS) Programme*, which reaches out to isolated seniors. Every week, Maria would visit her and lend a listening ear. “It didn’t take me too long to warm up to Maria. I felt relieved when I could share my problems with a trusted friend. It helps to keep my negative thoughts in check,” added Mdm Sapiah.
After the third befriending session, Mdm Sapiah took the courage to express her desire to become a befriender instead.
Stepping out to volunteer
The centre staff specially arranged for befriender Mdm Lee Boo Than, 80, who speaks Malay, to be paired with Mdm Sapiah. Together, they now take charge of four befriendees – from 60 to 84 years old – visiting them every week and providing psychosocial support.
Caption: SCS befrienders Mdm Sapiah (left) and Mdm Lee (right) visiting the homes of befriendees
Caption: Bringing cheer to 60-year-old befriendee Mdm Hafidah
Caption: The SCS has since expanded to TOUCH’s Active Ageing Centres (AACs) in Yishun and Wellington
“Nothing beats being in the company of my peers and volunteering together with them. I feel like my life has more purpose now. When other seniors see us, they will feel more confident to help in their own ways,” said Mdm Sapiah.
Over time, the befrienders and befriendees started to build good rapport with one another, meeting for meals at the void deck or catching up over a cup of coffee at the coffeeshop. Sometimes, they would have meals at Mdm Sapiah’s home.
“It helps that I am a senior because I think I can encourage them more. I like to meet people, listen to their worries and help them. I was really excited when my befriendee Alice invited me to join her for the aqua aerobics sessions together with other seniors. It shows that befriendees can also lead the way in keeping fit. It's fun when you can do things together,” added Mdm Sapiah.
Caption: Mdm Sapiah (middle) taking part in water activities organised by TOUCHpoint@Geylang Bahru and keeping fit with seniors
Caption: Mdm Sapiah (middle) with seniors from the Angklung group at TOUCHpoint@Geylang Bahru
Caption: Mdm Sapiah (right) enjoying a Malay Kampung session with Mdm Hafidah (left) and her daughter (middle)
These days, Mdm Sapiah keeps her schedule busy with a range of activities at the centre. She now plays the Angklung, joins seniors for Bingo, and attends exercise and aqua aerobics sessions to keep fit. Sometimes, she would volunteer to cook for Malay Kampung events, organised by the centre for Malay residents in Geylang Bahru.
Today, Mdm Sapiah is a strong advocate of TOUCHpoint@Geylang Bahru. Her children are also supportive of what she does and always encourage her to stay active.
“I will tell seniors who are staying alone to get out there, chit chat with friends and learn new things. Just take that first step and they will see the difference!” said Mdm Sapiah.
*About the Seniors Caring for Seniors Programme (SCS)
Set up in 2013, the Seniors Caring for Seniors (SCS) programme is part of TOUCH Community Services’ community enablement approach to increase support and resources through a sustainable care network to meet the needs of Singapore’s fast ageing population. The SCS provides a platform for seniors to move beyond being a recipient and to contribute as a volunteer. With more than half of its befrienders above 70, it functions as a point of help, where seniors can be resourced as community assets regardless of their age. Befrienders are matched and deployed in pairs for weekly home visits to reach out to vulnerable seniors. TOUCHpoint@Geylang Bahru also conducts ongoing learning opportunities through workshops and social activities for its befrienders to refresh their knowledge and foster bonding.
Caption: SCS befrienders and staff from TOUCHpoint@Geylang Bahru recognised at the SPAA Ceremony 2023
In 2023, the SCS programme was honoured at the Singapore Patient Action Awards (SPAA) by Tan Tock Seng Hospital under the Singapore Patient Support Group / Volunteer Group Award category. This award recognises SCS’s proactive approach to health, leveraging peer influence to inspire and equip seniors with essential healthcare and preventive knowledge to care for themselves and others effectively.
Story published in 2023