Set against the backdrop of the hipster’s / culturally rich Tiong Bahru, right at its fringe lies blocks of 1-room rented flats. The Tiong Bahru Orchid is a neighbourhood built in 1960s, and has been the home of many residence even till today. Unlike its much fancier counterparts in the other parts of Tiong Bahru, the Tiong Bahru Orchid is an older part of the region, but still remains dignified with several upgrades done over the years.

Image 1.1: Tiong Bahru Orchid Estate
Source: Street Directory

In the past, people used to be able to buy the flats in Tiong Bahru Orchids, but today, they are mostly rented out by the government to people with lower incomes, allowing them to have a roof over their head at minimum cost. Better known as “one room flats” or “一房半厅” by locals, these apartments only have very basic facilities- space for a room, half a hall, a kitchen and a toilet.

Because of its heavily subsidised rental fees, as well as Tiong Bahru Orchids itself having already been the home of many since its early days in the 1960s, 50 years later today it is now home to many of the elderlies in Singapore who are living alone. The low rental fees allow them to maintain a simple lifestyle at a low cost. The small space is also convenient for them, especially for those who are living alone, as it means lesser work when it comes to cleaning and tidying the place. Most importantly, during my interview with the elderlies during my volunteer stint with other Lions Befrienders’ volunteer, an elderly couple living in Tiong Bahru Garden shared that they have been living here for 50 years, and have grown attached to the place and the neighbours living here, which is why they have decided to stay here even after all these years.

“Elderlies’ Estate”

As an “Elderlies’ Estate”, Tiong Bahru Orchids have received several upgrades over the years to benefit the elderly population living here, many of which are even life saving ones. For starters, ramps are built at every block’s lift lobby to facilitate easy access to the block for elderlies who may have issues with climbing stairs, or are wheel-chair bound.

Image 2.1: Ramps built at every block for elderly with disabilities
Source: Lim Jun Tian

Signs have also been put up along corridors to remind people to slow down when going through the walk ways and to watch out for elderlies who may be moving slower.

Image 2.2: “Watch Out” signs for people to be cautious in the case of elderlies walking slowly
Source: Lim Jun Tian

Source: Lim Jun Tian

Like in many HDBs in Singapore, simple exercising facilities have been added to allow elderlies to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These exercising facilities also serve as simple physiotherapy equipment for elderlies who may need them.

Image 2.3: Simple exercising facilities for elderlies
Source: Lim Jun Tian

One of the most important additions to the neighbourhood is definitely the Emergency Alert Boards. These boards are placed near the lifts at every level, including the first floor so that it can and will be easily seen by people. Emergency buttons have been installed into each unit so that in the case of an emergency, residents can press the button to alert their neighbours or any passer-by who may see the board. The board will then display the exact unit number so that help can be rendered. This is especially important for elderlies who are living alone in times of crisis.

Volunteering with Lions Befrienders

Who are the Lions Befrienders

Lions Befrienders is an organisation created to reach out to elderlies who are at risk of social isolation. Lions Befrienders aims to enchance the quality of the life of the elderlies who are living alone.Volunteers make weekly visits to the homes of the elderlies to check in on them, talk to them to relieve their loneliness as well as provide them with any assistance they might require. Elderlies from the age 65 and above, with limited or no family support are eligible for the befriending service.

Apart from the weekly visits, Lions Befrienders also organise and lias with partners (both organisational and individuals) to host outings and recreational activities. They also work with other elder-care voluntary welfare organisations to ensure that the elderlies receive adequet support, without the schedules and plans of different oganisations clashing.

The Befriending Services provided by Lions Befrienders is funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), who also provides the list of elderlies who are living alone.

What do the volunteers do?

After undergoing training by Lions Befrienders, volunteers make weekly visits to the elderlies at their place. Of course, if you are unable to commit weekly, you can also join the regular volunteers’ teams to visit the elderlies.

These names and adress of the elderlies are provided to Lions Befrienders by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). Lions Befrienders will then call these elderlies to check if they are agreeable to have volunteers visiting them.

Image 3.1: Lions Befrienders Sticker to indicate the elderly is part of the program
Source: Lim Jun Tian

During the visits, volunteers check-in on the elderlies to make sure that they are doing well. Upon seeing that the elderlies are fine, they will have to submit a check-call repot to indicate that the elderly is fine. This allows Lions Befrienders to keep track on the well-being of the elderlies. This is especially importatnt for the elderlies who are livining alone. In recent years, there have been many cases of elderlies falling down, getting a heart attack, or even passing away in their house without anyone knowing, and hence the need for check-call reports.

Volunteers will chit-chat with the elderlies so that they will not feel so lonely, and have something to look forward to weekly. Volunteers also help the elderlies with any difficulties they may face such as changing light bulbs, reading letters and even buying new appliances for them.

Should the volunteers pick up any elderlies displaying unusual behaviour such as signs of depression, abuse, or suicidal tendencies, they can also immediately inform Lions Befrienders’ Executives so that professional help can be sought.

Apart from weekly visits, volunteers can also bring the elderlies out for events organized by Lions Befrienders and its partners, such as Dim Sum breakfasts.

Image 3.2: Photo of elderly during one of the home visits
Source: Lim Jun Tian

Interview with Lions Befrienders Volunteer

I managed to interview one of Lions Befrienders’ volunteer Mr Chan Meng Wai, a teacher. Mr Chan has been a volunteer since 2011, and since then have brought in many other regular volunteers, including other teachers and even students! Mr Chan is also a proud resident of Tiong Bahru, having grown up in a neghbourhood opposite of Tiong Bahru Orchid. He recalls the tough times of the past, and truly understands the struggles of these elderlies, motivating him to be a volunteer.

Mr Chan stated that “it is fun to get to know more elderlies, and be able to give them physical company.”

When asked what gave him the idea to get his students involved too, he mentioned that because this will aid in social integration between two very different generations, and it is mutually beneficial for both the elderlies and the students.

Mr Chan’s greatest concern is that there has been a rise in the number of elderlies dying alone in Singapore, and he hopes to ensure that this does not happen to these elderlies.

So the next time you are here to visit Tiong Bahru, do consider dropping by Tiong Bahru Orchids and join the volunteers of Lions Befrienders. For more information, you can also head down to the instagram profile of the volunteers @bmvsg5 , to find out when you can join them!

Written By: Lim Jun Tian

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