For the audience at the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient Awards 2017 ceremony that took place in April, it was a heart-warming and perhaps quaint sight to see a group of elderly people honoured as volunteers.
The seniors, who call themselves The Sunshine Group, received an accolade in the Support Groups category for their years of tireless service at the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) Bethany Methodist Nursing Home (BMNH). The awards were inaugurated in 2010 to pay tribute to inspiring patients, but 2017 marks the first year that a separate award category was created to honour outstanding patient support groups.
Led by 87-year-old Madam June Cheong, The Sunshine Group was formed 30 years ago when BMNH was located in the void deck of a block of flats in Whampoa. Today, the group has expanded to 17 members, the youngest of whom is in her 60s while the oldest is 91. Mobility issues did not seem to deter these plucky elders, three of whom move around with a walking stick or wheelchair.
In spite of their advanced age and physical frailties, the volunteers faithfully show up at the nursing home every Thursday morning, rain or shine. Nothing would stand in their way as they spread God’s love to the elderly sick, needy, and homeless. Said Madam Cheong: “Our mission is to obey the Lord, and love these seniors as He loves us.”
Their level of organisation is also equally impressive. To facilitate transport to the home, which is now located in Choa Chu Kang, they run a carpool system to pick up members from different districts, such as Clementi and Bukit Timah. Madam Cheong added: “Two gentlemen who live in the East have to take a bus to the nursing home, but they are always the earliest to arrive.”
At around 10 a.m., the volunteers and staff would push some 40 to 50 wheelchair-bound residents to the chapel, where The Sunshine Group hosts an hour-long programme. They pray, sing songs of praise as well as Chinese oldies, do light exercises, and enjoy a percussion session.
Being of similar ages to the residents, the volunteers were able to relate well with them, especially when they needed a listening ear for their health issues and worries. “Some of them have weak family support,” says Madam Cheong, a former counsellor. “They often feel abandoned and depressed, and lose interest in life. Our work complements that of the staff. We work together to provide holistic person-centred care to the residents.”
Madam Cheong recalls how a late resident, a Samsui woman who had a tough life working at construction sites, transformed from a withdrawn person to a much more cheerful one. Her love for singing led her to join The Sunshine Group where she eventually opened up and broke into smiles whenever she was applauded for her powerful renditions of the ever-popular Cantonese song ‘上海滩’ (Shanghai Beach).
Each member of The Sunshine Group contributes $30 a year towards buying gifts and snacks for the residents. Madam Molly Yap, 77, is the group’s treasurer and ‘Snack I/C (in-charge)’ who ensures that every resident gets a yummy treat. Hae bee hiam (dried shrimp sambal), which is typically sprinkled on rice, is an all-time favourite among the residents.
Says Madam Cheong, “We find joy in seeing the residents happy, and it’s a therapeutic activity for us too! Working with friends who share the same passion must have reinforced the purpose and sustained our commitment in this ministry for so many years. We are very heartened by the SingHealth recognition, and look forward to continuing this meaningful work.”
At the award ceremony, the seniors received a rousing applause as they made their way slowly onstage, unhurried and steady – the same way they have given of themselves to people in need for the past three decades.
This story is adapted from an article published by SingHealth.
By the Methodist Welfare Services Communications Team