Retired, but staying active as volunteer barber

Mr Goh giving a free haircut to Mr Yaakop, one of his regular customers, to welcome Chinese New Year last week. Mr Goh has been volunteering his services at Paya Lebar Wellness Centre since retiring in 2006.
Mr Goh giving a free haircut to Mr Yaakop, one of his regular customers, to welcome Chinese New Year last week. Mr Goh has been volunteering his services at Paya Lebar Wellness Centre since retiring in 2006.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Armed with a fine-tooth comb, from his days as a barber 10 years ago, and a pair of scissors, Mr Goh Kow Hoon, 81, steadily snipped the hair behind an elderly customer's ear, his lips pressed together in concentration.

He has been volunteering his services at Paya Lebar Wellness Centre after retiring from his barber job in 2006. The centre in Hougang Avenue 1runs activities for elderly residents in the neighbourhood.

Every Friday from 9am to 1pm at the centre, Mr Goh cuts the hair of male seniors for an affordable price of $2.

Last Friday, he did it for free for seven elderly residents, in the spirit of Chinese New Year.

"Not everyone can afford a haircut, especially needy seniors. So I hope I can help by giving them a free haircut to welcome Chinese New Year," said Mr Goh in Teochew.

He takes around 30 minutes for each haircut and enjoys talking to his customers about their families and hobbies.

He became a volunteer after being approached by Mr Low Ngian Woo, chairman of Paya Lebar Active Ageing Committee, which runs the wellness centre. The committee is a grassroots organisation that runs activities for senior residents to help them stay active after retirement.

Mr Low said: "Volunteering has given (Mr Goh) a new purpose in life and it keeps him physically and mentally active."

It also helps Mr Goh to widen his social circle, Mr Low added.

Indeed, some of Mr Goh's customers are now his friends. "I have become close friends with my regular customers and it brings me joy to serve them," said Mr Goh.

Mr Yaakop Abdul Hamid, 78, is one of them. "I always go back to him as his service is good and cheap. On top of getting my hair cut, I have also got a good friend."

Another elderly resident made a special trip to the centre last Friday just to show his support. The 67- year-old retiree, who gave his name as R. Mok, said: "My friend is doing something meaningful. I am more than happy to be here."

When asked about his most memorable encounter in the course of his volunteer work, Mr Goh recounted how a resident had not had his hair cut in more than six months.

"After his shoulder-length hair was cut off, he was extremely happy with his new hairstyle. It was a very rewarding moment for me."

Such satisfaction is what motivates him to keep on volunteering for as long as his eyesight permits and his hands are steady, Mr Goh said. "Doing this regularly has helped me keep my senses sharp."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Retired, but staying active as volunteer barber'. Print Edition | Subscribe