Apart But Not Alone - How SGO Helped Seniors During COVID-19

Apart But Not Alone - How SGO Helped Seniors During COVID-19

27 Jul 2020
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As Singaporeans hunkered down at home during the Circuit Breaker period to stay safe, Mdm Lai Yuet Meng and her husband found the experience more isolating than most.

The elderly couple – Mdm Lai is 75, her husband is 69 – are blind and without children. They were able to lead independent lives, with Mdm Lai’s pension and income from her husband’s work as a foot reflexologist. However, COVID-19 upended that comfortable routine, and the closure of businesses led to her husband losing his job in April.

For a while, they followed the news on the radio closely, wondering like most Singaporeans did when their normal lives will resume again. Mdm Lai decided not to go out too much, to avoid having to put on a mask. 

It’s very difficult for me to wear a mask and walk around. I feel out of breath, like I can’t breathe when I walk,” she says. Even going to the supermarket, a half-hour journey, had become too daunting.

One day, the elderly lady perked up when she heard an ad on the radio – seniors who needed help during this time were urged to call the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) Hotline. 

Mdm Lai dialled the hotline, and was linked up with volunteers from the Silver Generation Office (SGO), AIC’s outreach arm. SGO arranged to help her buy groceries and send them to her house. Volunteers also helped to take her and her husband to the hospital when they were due for a check-up.

Since February 2020, SGO has reached out to about 47,000 seniors, including seniors like Mdm Lai. Through its volunteers, SGO attended to a variety of requests, from grocery shopping, to delivering cooked meals and changing light bulbs. No request was too small. 

SGO previously relied on its volunteers, called Silver Generation Ambassadors, to engage seniors door-to-door across Singapore. When Circuit Breaker measures were put in place, SGO needed to change their strategy fast. An SGO spokesperson says:

Because of Circuit Breaker, we started tele-engagements to replace face-to-face visits. From late April, we reached out to more than 20,000 vulnerable seniors, to check in on them regularly, and offer support for their daily living needs.

If seniors are uncontactable or do not have a phone, SGO would pay short visits to their homes, while following safe distancing measures, to ensure that they are safe and well. 

The SGO volunteers found that many seniors appreciated their effort to help them, and they were often met with warm welcomes. An SGO volunteer, Richard Lau shared his experience with Mdm Sek.

"She (Mdm Sek) looked really happy when I delivered the food to her. She told me that she's thankful that in this difficult period, there are organisations helping those in need and that she is very thankful to SGO."

Check out photos of the SGO outreach below for more heartwarming scenes!

If you know of any senior or caregiver who needs assistance, call the AIC Hotline at 1800-650-6060.

Connection Restored

The unprecedented Circuit Breaker period – from 7 April to 1 June 2020 – had knock-on effects not just on Singapore’s economy, but also on the well-being of seniors. As they obeyed strict restrictions to stay home, social isolation set in. The Silver Generation Office (SGO) had put their usual door-to-door outreach with seniors on hold, but resumed limited engagement with the most vulnerable residents from late April 2020. We document their experience in photos.

Photography by Edwin Koo, Captured.

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Choa Chu Kang resident Mdm Rubella was overcome with emotion when volunteers from the SGO appeared at her doorstep with groceries for her. Most seniors stayed indoors to adhere to the safe distancing measures during the Circuit Breaker period, but the prolonged isolation and fear over the pandemic have taken a toll on some. The sight of SGO volunteers provides a comforting reminder to these seniors that someone is looking out for them.

  

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Public Service volunteer Amanda Leong, from Ministry of Home Affairs, being accompanied by SGO volunteer Teo Teng Teng, on a grocery run near senior’s house. The Public Service Division mobilised over 500 public service volunteers across the various Ministries and statutory boards to support SGO in this effort. Amanda stepped up to help run simple errands for the vulnerable seniors, so that they can minimise the need to go out during Circuit Breaker period.

       

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Elton Soon, an SGO volunteer, visiting a senior who did not respond to phone calls. With the tightening of safe distancing measures, SGO volunteers relied on phone calls to check in on the well-being of seniors across Singapore. At times when the call went unanswered, SGO volunteers would make a quick visit to the senior’s home and share their hotline, in case of an emergency.

       

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A resident from Redhill Close was delighted when she was visited by Silver Generation Ambassadors.

SGO has reached out to about 47,000 vulnerable seniors through various efforts since February 2020.

       

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Not all the home visits were for simple errands such as grocery runs, or helping seniors collect medications. With dog groomers closed for business, one senior with mobility problem needed help washing her pet dog. SGO volunteer Bhavani Nyanajegaran provided the full dog spa experience – complete with a wash, blow dry, and trim.

        

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Another special request came from Mr Manuel Welen, who turned 68 on 1 June 2020. His birthday wish: a haircut. Due to his mobility issues, and the tightening of safety measures, Mr Welen could not leave his house during this period. He was fairly pleased with the hairstyling work of SGO volunteers, Irene Ho and Joanna Toh.

          

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After the haircut, the SGO volunteers surprised Mr Welen with a birthday cake. With safe distancing still on their minds, the volunteers stood apart and sang him a quick song, before he blew out the candle.

The impromptu celebration made him feel blessed and thankful towards the SGO volunteers, he said afterwards.