Social isolation is an epidemic, hitting persons with disabilities, low-income seniors, and elderly suffering from failing health especially hard. Sometimes, the most important thing they need is someone to talk to and listen.
There is a growing community effort in Singapore to reach out to those who are socially isolated. One of them is Cycling Without Age Singapore.
Their mission is simple: To alleviate loneliness through e-trishaw rides.
What's an e-trishaw, you might ask. Here's a photo:
These e-trishaws have battery-powered "assist" to complement manual pedalling — much like e-bikes.
Each trishaw can take up to two passengers, and the charity has given rides to over 10,000 senior citizens and persons with disabilities since it first started in 2015.
Elderly folks love the fresh air and wind on their faces
This trishaw-ride programme, which is called Moving Generations, is funded by Temasek Foundation.
This programme also connects the elderly — especially those at risk of social isolation — with young folks, providing them the opportunity to interact and talk while riding.
Aside from having people to talk to, one of the most common feedback from the elderly beneficiaries is that they enjoy breathing in the fresh air and feeling the wind on their faces.
Today, Cycling Without Age ferries its beneficiaries on eight designated routes across Singapore's park connector network and are planning to increase the number of routes in collaboration with the Land Transport Authority.
We had a little chat with the charity's General Manager Addie Elicaño on how they started and the impactful work that they do.
Oldest passenger is 107 years old
Cycling Without Age Singapore's oldest passenger is 107-year-old Mdm Yeo Lu who stays at the Sree Narayana Nursing Home in Yishun.
"Mdm Yeo is amazing and such an inspiration. As much as she can, she still prefers to walk than to be in a wheelchair. She wants to inspire the youth to be more active, which is why she herself still walks around the nursing home (she pushes her wheelchair like a walker!)."
Young people report learning more about empathy for the elderly
While Cycling Without Age Singapore's beneficiaries are mainly the elderly and persons with disabilities, the charity's programmes also benefit the young.
"What is great about [the Moving Generations programme] is that even if our primary beneficiaries are the seniors, we noted that youth have reported an increase in empathy for seniors and comfort level in interacting with seniors as a result of this programme. This pilot programme started in 2018.
We also had Building Generations, a programme that focused specifically on youth-at-risk and engaging them to be trained as trishaw pilots. This was a 7-month programme sponsored by SAGE, that ran from April to November 2019."
Pivoting to virtual rides during the Covid-19 pandemic
As with many other organisations, Cycling Without Age Singapore was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to remain true to their purpose, the charity came up with the idea to provide virtual rides for their elderly beneficiaries — and it has been receiving encouraging feedback.
"In light of the pandemic for example, we had to stop giving trishaw rides. We had to ask ourselves - who are we without our trishaws? What does Cycling Without Age Singapore stand for? How can we continue to make an impact? We needed to pivot our services, and one of the cool things we have been able to do is convert our trishaw rides to virtual rides! We started the virtual trishaw ride programme as a pilot in August for four nursing homes and senior care centres, and the first run will end this December.
The feedback has been very good, with nursing home managers confirming that this option for seniors to go on virtual rides is a welcome solution to them not being able to go out due to Covid-19. With the results of the pilot, we hope to find a way to roll this out in a more meaningful way to more seniors."
It has indeed been a tough year for the charity but Elicaño said that Cycling Without Age Singapore is thankful for the the support of its volunteers and donors.
"CWA Singapore is a charity that is built on the dreams and hopes of a small group of people who love serving Singapore. We would not have been able to get this far without the support of our volunteers and individual donors...So we just want to say a BIG THANK YOU for the trust you have placed in us to do work that will make Singapore a better place for everyone. We promise to do our best to ensure that no one is left behind."
She also let on that the charity, which relies on donations from the community, has plans to roll out more programmes that will empower that elderly beneficiaries in 2021.
Stories from the City of Good is a series on ordinary Singaporeans giving their best for others and inspiring each other to become a Singapore that cares. This is a collaboration between Mothership and the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.