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TAKING HEART

Growing Singapore's pool of senior volunteers

RSVP Singapore inked an MOU with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to enable more seniors to contribute

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Guest of honour Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (centre), said: "Under the SG Cares movement, we seek to work with an ecosystem of partners to engage our seniors, and support them in their ageing journey."

Singapore

MORNI SULAIMAN, a former teacher and banker, and Lily Chan, a retired educationist - at 75 and 58 respectively, are volunteers of RSVP Singapore The Organisation of Senior Volunteers. Mr Morni mentors a group of at-risk primary school children from low-income families, and Ms Chan applies the training skills she learnt as an educationist in her volunteer work at the National Heart Centre.

In an effort to grow such senior volunteerism in Singapore, and as part of the SG Cares national movement, RSVP Singapore inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) on Saturday. Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, was guest of honour.

The partnership was in conjunction with RSVP Singapore's fifth annual National Senior Volunteer Month (NSVM) and through this MOU, SG Cares will help develop RSVP Singapore's capability to grow the number of volunteers aged 50 and above.

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Koh Juay Meng, chairman of RSVP Singapore, said: "We believe that the signing of this MOU is a huge step in working towards our vision to make every senior a volunteer. It is especially important to keep seniors, especially the Merdeka Generation, socially and mentally active by involving them in various meaningful community programmes."

Ms Fu said: "Under the SG Cares movement, we seek to work with an ecosystem of partners to engage our seniors, and support them in their ageing journey."

She added that the MOU will catalyse this, and "expand efforts in engaging seniors early at their workplaces, and introducing volunteering opportunities to them".

An example of senior volunteerism is Bala Kumar, 59, who works at Standard Chartered bank - which is also the sponsor for NSVM 2019, as the bank signed a three-year partnership with RSVP Singapore in February this year.

Despite having a day job at the bank, Mr Bala is a regular volunteer at various events.

"I am passionate about volunteering, especially for education, food and elderly causes. Education, because it helps someone in the long-term, food, because it makes people happy and elderly, well, because I am also a senior," said Mr Bala.

Patrick Lee, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, said: "We believe that volunteering is a great way to keep a person healthy, active and socially engaged. This is also a way of unlocking new potential for giving in Singapore."

This is crucial as data by Singapore Department of Statistics showed that in 2018, seniors aged 65 years and above make up 14 per cent of Singapore's population and the figures from the National Population and Talent Division showed that in 2030, this segment will make up one in four of the population, or a growth of about 80 per cent.

NVPC's first Silver Volunteerism study showed that senior volunteerism rates have always been low - 20 per cent in 2016 and 26 per cent in 2018 among seniors aged 55-64 years old - despite having benefits such as volunteers being more satisfied with life (84 per cent) than non-volunteers (76 per cent).

Director of knowledge, marketing and advocacy at NVPC, Jeffrey Tan, said: "Seniors are more familiar with giving cash donations. Volunteering is not an activity that readily occurs to them because of their priorities. However, this study highlights the nine accessible ways in which seniors can be engaged to volunteer that intertwine with their existing priorities."

Among the nine accessible ways to interest seniors to volunteer include their family, social activity and faith.

Mr Tan added that seniors are a group of people who can be tapped, since among the senior non-volunteers, 22 per cent have not given much thought to volunteering.

Ms Fu said: "Our seniors have a wealth of skills and expertise that can benefit the community. And many of them, especially in the Merdeka Generation, wish to make a difference in the community."

Mr Morni agreed and said that volunteering has given him a sense of purpose although there were challenges and times that he felt like giving up.

"As an educator, I have come across children with social problems. But children in the '60s, when I was a teacher then, and now, are very different. It was initially a culture shock as the students' attitudes were very different. I was disappointed but after thinking about it, I still wanted to help them. I also had to understand the difference between being a teacher and a mentor, and I feel satisfied when my efforts reap rewards. Volunteerism does not come easy as satisfaction is not immediate."

Echoing his sentiments, Ms Chan said that she also learnt things through volunteering at the National Heart Centre: "I got to learn about various heart issues, and the tests that had to be done such as ECG. The patients who come in, some are alone and do not speak English, so I reach out to them. Volunteering here makes me appreciate the fact that I am healthy," she said.

"In growing volunteerism," said Ms Fu, "we seek to redefine longevity as something that is positive and productive, by showing that our seniors can remain active not only at work but also in the community, as they age."