Retired, but keeping busy as a volunteer

Mr Ngiam Tong Yuen received a President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award.
Mr Ngiam Tong Yuen received a President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Former senior exec wants to kill stereotype that older people are helpless and sick

While most elderly people become less active post-retirement, Mr Ngiam Tong Yuen became the opposite. For about 12 years after retirement, the 76-year-old has been volunteering at RSVP Singapore, an organisation for senior volunteers.

He gives his time as a "senior guide", conducting tours for students at places such as Fort Siloso and the Science Centre. He also trains other senior volunteers.

This year, as a member of RSVP's board, he also helped to organise last month's National Senior Volunteer Month. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of senior volunteerism and attracted about 3,000 sign-ups.

Last night, he was one of six recipients of the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards, presented by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Mr Ngiam's award was in the individual category for seniors above 65. He said: "I want to kill the stereotype that older people are helpless and sick. It is true that older people tend to be sick. But for most of the 20 to 25 years after they retire, they are quite healthy."

He has also volunteered as a mediator at the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents, and at groups such as the Institution of Engineers Singapore.

The former director at Exxon Chemical Singapore said: "When I worked, I was in authority, telling people what to do. But when I became a volunteer, I learnt new ways of working with people, like being persuasive."

Besides the award, he had a pleasant surprise yesterday - a cheque for $20,000 for RSVP Singapore, donated by Mr Toh Soon Huat, who won in the individual category for adults (aged 36 to 65).

Mr Toh, 55, who chairs the Sian Chay Medical Institution, a traditional Chinese medicine charity clinic, decided to make the donation within minutes of meeting Mr Ngiam. Mr Toh said: "I was inspired by how he's still volunteering at his age. I think our groups' aims are aligned - we both want to promote good health, even for senior volunteers - so I decided to donate."

This is the 12th year of the awards, organised by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

Unlike previous years, there were no separate categories for volunteerism and philanthropy, and the awards for individuals had categories for winners at different life stages - youth aged 15 to 35, adults and seniors. The NVPC said it made these changes as it wanted to inspire people to continue giving throughout their lives.

Legal officer Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir, 35, won in the individual category for youth. He sets up, and funds, scholarships at his alma maters, Bedok View Secondary and Tampines Junior College.

In the group category, the winners were: CapitaLand; HealthServe, which offers medical help to migrant workers; and Keeping Hope Alive, founded by veteran volunteer Fion Phua. It provides direct help to the needy, such as refurbishing bug-infested homes.

Dr Tan congratulated the winners, saying: "I am confident that our nation will continue to progress in the years ahead as long as we continue to look out for one another and take care of the disadvantaged."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Retired, but keeping busy as a volunteer'. Print Edition | Subscribe