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COMPANY OF GOOD

Helping the elderly - in life and death

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Direct Life Foundation serves to connect the elderly and volunteers - made up of people from all walks of life - through activities such as free haircuts, performances and outings.

Singapore

AN old man's fear of dying alone at home without anyone discovering his decomposing body was the impetus which led to the establishment of Direct Life Foundation (DLF) in late 2015.

A platform under Direct Funeral Services (DFS), DLF serves to connect the elderly and volunteers - made up of people from all walks of life - through activities such as free haircuts, performances and outings to SEA Aquarium in Sentosa.

Jenny Tay, managing director of DFS, says that an elderly man stepped out of a trishaw in front of their office one day in 2015. He then spoke to Ms Tay and her father - famed undertaker Roland Tay - about his fear of dying alone and asked for assistance with matters relating to the afterlife. When she later visited him at his one-room HDB flat, Ms Tay was approached by numerous residents with similar worries and issues, which got her thinking that although she was in the business of death, the living should not be neglected as well.

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This led to events being organised every quarter which enabled residents of those one-room HDB flats to mingle and socialise.

"Our purpose is to build a kampong community so that the elderly living in the same vicinity can support and look out for one another," says Ms Tay. "DLF is an extension of what we do at DFS. While we provide pro bono funeral services at DFS for the underprivileged, we try and help the elderly folks at DLF in their golden years."

She adds that this group of people rarely have the opportunity to leave their homes, and always look forward to such events.

Looking ahead, Ms Tay says that she plans to explore ways to better serve the elderly, for example, by getting the community of corporate partners involved to provide equipment such as wheelchairs to elderly folk who require them.

There will also be a Make-a-Wish event held at the end of the year where hopefully, with the help of members of the public and corporations, the elderly will find their Christmas wishes come true.

As Singapore grapples with the challenges of an ageing society, the teaching of filial piety is important to minimise cases of abandonment, says Ms Tay.

"DLF stands for and advocates filial piety. It is not just 'seize your day'. It is also 'seize their day'. Through interacting with the elderly, we tell the volunteers to not forget their parents at home as well."

Ms Tay has continued her father's tradition of running the company as a business with a heart since taking over the reins in 2014.

DFS still arranges about one to three pro bono funerals out of the 30-35 that are handled weekly.

"It has been ingrained since my dad's era to help the less fortunate. When he was very young, he worked at a coffee shop next to a funeral parlour and he used to serve drinks to the bereaved families. The stark difference between the elaborate funerals of the rich and the austere ones of the poor really influenced him."

She adds that Mr Tay feels strongly that everyone deserves a dignified send off irrespective of financial circumstances, and it is that belief which has made DFS into the company that it is today.

Tricia Chia, executive assistant at DFS, says: "Our founder and leaders often lead by example - and doing good is a lifestyle, not a job. Seeing the needs of the family being met brings great satisfaction. Thus going the extra mile and voluntarily wanting to contribute in our own ways are easy."

Ms Tay concurs and says that they have never seen the company as a purely for-profit business.

"To us, what we are doing is essential to the community, and we never consider what we do as CSR (corporate social responsibility) but more of a way of life."

She adds that although it is imperative for the business to be in the black to be able to keep her 60-plus staff employed, it is still important to give back to the community, so she will continue her father's legacy of giving and helping the underprivileged - whether in life or death.

  • This article is part of a series showcasing companies that prove size does not matter when it comes to giving. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. For more information, go to www.companyofgood.sg