Let’s Talk: Sustainability Enabling Resilience in the Elderly

Gaurav is a committed volunteer – the list of organizations and charities he works with is endless! Five months ago, Gaurav began volunteering with a new charity called The New Charis Mission (TNCM). Singapore, like many countries, has a large elderly population. A report by the Ministry of Health Singapore in 2020 found that around 10% of the 88,000 Singapore residents aged 60+ years old live alone. This has led to high rates of suicide among the elderly which has increased rapidly over the last decade. Diseases such as dementia is widespread in the country which is further exacerbating the issue of mortality.

Can you tell us about how you volunteer to support the elderly?

In Singapore, you have very specific areas for low-income households where there are mostly Chinese or Malay residents. Typically these are people with no children or spouse so they can become very lonely. The residents we visit live in single room rental flats in Whampoa and Ang Mo Kio. At TNCM they call the program ‘Bringing Joy to the Aged’.

How does it all work and what do you do?

I join the group every Wednesday evening to take part in the be-friending sessions. We organize ourselves through a WhatsApp group where we can confirm our availability and attendance with the team leads. We tend to go in small groups of up to three people, plus a team lead, where we go into these blocks to visit the residents. We typically spend about 2-2.5 hours in an evening and in that time can cover about 8-10 households.

What happens during the visit?

We talk to them mostly, ask them how they’re feeling. Even though I don’t speak much of their language it doesn’t matter, they don’t need a lot of words, just a smile and some support. We help in other ways too. It might be having dinner together, checking their blood pressure, or just be there for company and someone to talk to and listen to them. We’ll often pass on information to them, such as discounts for using public transport, generally helping to make them aware of what’s available. We do sometimes fix things for them too. One time there was a broken bed that we mended. These apartments tend to be very small and so the residents have accumulated many things that creates clutter that gathers dust. So the charity has set up a cleaning business and we will offer them the service and ask for their consent. Many times our support is pushed back because they say we should be helping younger people and they don’t want to waste our time. They feel they don’t need it as much as others. TNCM also offers the residents free monthly haircuts which helps to make them feel good about themselves.

What do you feel makes this organization different to others?

This organization is different in many ways. One key difference is that all the team leads are ex-offenders. They have all spent time in jail. When they were released they decided they wanted to give back to the community. They set up this organization to establish their place in society as good citizens. They are always of the mindset of giving back, to make up for a mistake in their past. TNCM was set up in 2006 and has been growing ever since.

"Many times our support is pushed back because they say we should be helping younger people and they don’t want to waste our time. They feel they don’t need it as much as others."

Why does it matter to you and what drives you to spend your time doing this?

I feel very humbled by this – I give all my regards to the team leads. They do an incredible job in keeping all the volunteers engaged and mentoring us as we often need help in knowing how best to connect with the people we visit. Due to the language issue I cannot talk much but they’re always so patient with me and help with translation. They’ve given me a target of learning 25 Chinese words in the next six months. When you get a response to just one word I feel very good and it makes a difference. It’s given me a lens to see what it is to be old and lonely but I also find it very inspiring to see how much hope the residents have even when they have so little. It helps me to understand the community and the meaning of wealth and sharing which I take to my family and colleagues. You make friends too when you volunteer and get to meet people with great hearts. It makes you realize that it’s not about what you have or what you know but how much you want to give. With TNCM I feel in a safe space where people don’t judge me and have a lot of gratitude to share.

You work with other charities too – why is that?

I like to associate myself with organizations where I feel I can make a difference. I want to make the most of my volunteering time and this enables me to get a sense of the grass roots community plus it helps me to de-stress. The feeling of being able to help someone cannot be fully explained. In fact I wonder why I only just started now and not before.

And what are the other charities you support through volunteering?

I joined the National Library of Singapore. They have a program of sharing stories with underprivileged children. Sometimes in life you come across a skill you never knew you had and I have found storytelling to be so important and a way of being able to connect with children. I also help run digital classes for the elderly since in Singapore the government is moving to digitize all government services. There is another initiative called Blessings in a Bag. This is about helping to ensure every child has the right to opportunities regardless of their background. They often support children suffering from mental health issues which can be caused by parental neglect or poverty.

About The New Charis Mission (TNCM)

TNCM is a non-profit charitable organization that provides a halfway house for ex-drug addicts and ex-offenders through a Residential Rehabilitation Programme. It aims to help every individual move from the past failures and destructive lives to developing a new mindset and value system. Members progress to become Mentors running programmes in Schools, Counsellors to the inmates in Prison and Befrienders to the lonely elderly.

Special Events | TNCM (thenewcharismission.org.sg)

Gaurav Oberai

Gaurav joined NTT five months ago and works as a Senior Client Partner in the managed cloud and infrastructure services division of NTT Ltd in Singapore. He was attracted to the role by his desire to work for a multicultural organization where everyone is aligned in working to the same intention while coming from different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities.

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