The Silver Generation Office (SGO) currently has more than 3,000 volunteers who go door-to-door to engage seniors at home. These volunteers lend a helping hand to seniors who need health, financial and social assistance.
Sometimes, upon opening the door, volunteers may encounter nonchalant seniors who are less than willing to talk.
Thankfully, most encounters do not start out this way as this is just one of the different scenarios that 29-year-old Latin Ng faces when engaging the elderly as a Silver Generation (SG) Ambassador with the SGO.
And despite a few less-than-pleasant experiences, Ng never loses his patience. Instead, he focuses on building rapport with these seniors through sincerity.
As we chat with Ng at the SGO satellite office in Sembawang, he opens up about the different encounters he has had with various seniors and how he connects and builds relationships with them despite the age, and sometimes, language differences.
Ng also shares how volunteering has changed the way he thinks about his own relationship with his grandmother.
Inspired to help seniors after an unexpected encounter
Ng is no stranger to reaching out to others, having done community service work during his JC days, and tutoring disadvantaged children when he was in university. However, it was only in 2018 when Ng found his calling in helping and engaging the seniors in his community.
But why did he decide to do so?
Ng tells us that just last year, SG Ambassadors came knocking on his home door looking for his grandmother.
“Initially, I was sceptical -- what does this government agency want with my grandmother? Surprisingly, my grandmother was very warm towards them.”
That’s when he found out that these volunteers had been engaging his grandmother for several years prior to that visit. Even though he lives with his extended family in his Sembawang flat, Ng tells us that most of his family members are out working during the day, leaving his grandmother at home alone.
“She doesn’t usually like to interact with strangers...After that unexpected encounter (with the volunteers), I realised that I haven’t seen my grandma this happy to have someone to talk to and share her stories with.”
Moved by the genuine care and concern from these volunteers towards his grandmother, Ng wanted to do the same for other seniors too.
“I wanted other seniors to feel the same joy and warmth that my grandmother felt.”
Joined SGO as a volunteer
Shortly after the encounter with the volunteers and his grandmother, Ng signed up to be an SG Ambassador in August 2018.
Before becoming an SG Ambassador, volunteers are first trained to learn how to communicate effectively with seniors and build rapport with them.
Volunteers are typically paired up to conduct engagements, so there’s support for new volunteers and a good mix of different languages that the volunteers are able to speak.
Engagement sessions are flexible and can be carried out during after-work hours or the weekends. And it’s this flexibility that enticed Ng to volunteer, even as a working adult.
“I feel more at ease knowing that I have full control of my time in balancing other commitments with my volunteering role.”
So what does he do as an SG Ambassador?
Ng tells us that he engages seniors aged 60 and above to communicate and clarify certain government policies, connect them to social activities within their community, and link them up with relevant agencies should they require assistance.
Ng says they will sometimes encounter seniors who show signs of loneliness. As SG Ambassadors, they help to link these seniors up to social community events so they can get to know others.
“Empowering seniors is important as they gain much-needed social support within the same community, possibly with other seniors who are also looking for friends.”
Building rapport with a senior
Throughout his volunteering experience, Ng explains that it is crucial to build bonds and find out about the seniors’ life in a tactful manner. And to do so, a volunteer should be both observant and empathetic.
Once rapport is built, Ng revealed that seniors freely share details of their daily lives, adding that the seniors he met are a really diverse bunch with different interests and personalities. Some have active exercise regimes while others are passionate about cooking – with some even offering home-cooked meals to the volunteers when they visit.
Plenty of seniors have also expressed their gratitude towards the volunteers, as Ng tells us that volunteers have received hand-written cards and tokens from appreciative seniors.
Taught him valuable life lessons
Ng reflects that volunteering allows him to “see things from different perspectives”.
“When you’re volunteering you’re not only helping the senior but also helping yourself,” he says.
Through volunteering, he shares that he has since learnt to become a better listener:
“I really do enjoy befriending the seniors. You become more patient and learn to be a better listener, which are important life skills.”
More importantly, interacting with these seniors who have a wealth of life experiences also remind him not to take his loved ones for granted, prompting him to reflect upon his own relationship with his grandmother.
“I’ve come to realise that as a younger volunteer, seniors may come to see us as their children or grandchildren. For some of them, their children may be too busy at work or even live overseas. It makes me happy to be able to bring them joy just by chatting with them -- just like my grandmother and myself.”
On that note, Ng urges us to try volunteering with seniors:
“Every time I see a young person, I will encourage them to volunteer. Personally, I think the intergenerational conversations will change how you view seniors around you – conversations that a younger person may not experience within their own social circle.”
Becoming a volunteer
Ng loved his time as a volunteer at SGO so much that he turned his passion into a full-time career. Now, he works as a Division Lead at the SGO Sembawang Satellite Office. There are 16 such offices all over Singapore.
For more information on how to volunteer as an SG Ambassador, please visit AIC’s website.
Top photo courtesy of AIC & Latin Ng.
This sponsored article by the Agency for Integrated Care encouraged us to visit our grandparents more often.