Expats sing, dance and even give massages

Expatriates (from left) Kazuko Okuyama, Tomoko Tsubone, Yoshie Ishida and Miki Arai giving patients at Assisi Hospice massage therapy, as part of a volunteer programme run by the Japanese Association Singapore.
Expatriates (from left) Kazuko Okuyama, Tomoko Tsubone, Yoshie Ishida and Miki Arai giving patients at Assisi Hospice massage therapy, as part of a volunteer programme run by the Japanese Association Singapore.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Japanese Association Singapore volunteers bring relief and cheer to hospice patients

Stay-at-home mother Kumi Ware does not speak any Mandarin, but that has not stopped her from singing along to Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng thrice a month as a volunteer at Assisi Hospice.

Sometimes donning a colourful cotton kimono, the 39-year-old, alongside 11 other volunteers, leads patients in simple dance moves to the beat of both Japanese and Mandarin songs.

Her singing is part of a volunteer programme by the Japanese Association Singapore (JAS).

Despite the transient nature of expatriates, the association has managed to maintain a group of volunteers for nearly 20 years.

It now has 125 volunteers serving 10 organisations. Most of them are expatriate housewives who usually leave Singapore after about three or four years.

GIVING THE THUMBS-UP

I enjoy my time here. Even if there are language barriers, because some patients speak only Mandarin or dialects, we overcome them through body language.

MRS KUMI WARE, on volunteering at Assisi Hospice

Going in teams to conduct activities such as music and massage therapy, they visit Assisi Hospice, Cheshire Home and AWWA Senior Home, among others.

The group at Assisi Hospice has been volunteering at its day care centre twice weekly for almost 20 years, making it one of the longest-serving such groups at Assisi.

On Tuesdays, members lead music therapy sessions in which the singing and dancing help to keep the patients active and lift their spirits. Then, on Thursdays, they give foot and shoulder massages to as many as 35 patients.

Mrs Ware, who started volunteering at the hospice a year ago, finds it a meaningful way to spend time. "I enjoy my time here. Even if there are language barriers, because some patients speak only Mandarin or dialects, we overcome them through body language," she said.

Madam Tan Ah Moi, 58, a patient at the day care centre, said the shoulder and foot massage sessions are relaxing and help her to sleep well. She added: "The volunteers are very attentive to our needs, and will always ask if everything is okay. I often tell them to come more times a week."

Volunteers do not undergo formal training but learn on the job from their "seniors" .

"For example, we learn how to use less strength when handling people with swollen feet and how to wash the feet of people with injuries," said Ms Yayoi Nishikawa, 41, who started volunteering at Assisi Hospice six years ago.

The volunteers have a system in which they lead a particular activity for a year and then pass the baton to someone else.

Ms Nishikawa, for instance, led the massage sessions last year.

These activity groups are managed by a committee at JAS, which works on a similar system.

Mrs Tazuko Litchfield, 47, a former group leader, said volunteers who remain in Singapore for long periods help to ensure the continuity of projects.

Singapore has been her home for 19 years now, and her family has no immediate plans to leave.

JAS holds annual seminars on its volunteering activities, providing an avenue for new expatriates to join the ranks.

"The volunteer activities provide them with a way to give back to society, socialise, meet new people and make friends with other housewives," said senior administrative manager Machiko Mitsuyasu.

Assisi Hospice chief executive Choo Shiu Ling said: "The JAS ladies are testament that it is possible to retain volunteers through continued engagement, appreciation and training."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Expats sing, dance and even give massages'. Print Edition | Subscribe