Armed with storytelling activities and Kahoot! quizzes he created himself, Mr Bardin Jean-Michel Francois travels to Naval Base Primary School and Xishan Primary School every week to engage with students in after-school mentoring sessions.
“Children are a very demanding audience, and you have to teach them things in as little as 10 minutes, or you won’t hold their attention,” says the 69-year-old, who devotes more than a day each week preparing for the volunteer sessions.
A former chief operating officer of a French bank, Mr Bardin – who goes by the name Jimmy – is not your typical local volunteer. The Frenchman fell in love with Singapore during a business trip in 1985 and decided to retire here in 2015 after a 25-year career in the banking industry.
For him, retirement was akin to “liberation from prison”, freeing him up to pursue his many interests, from cooking French cuisine to performing in the Singapore Symphony Chorus.
“I cannot imagine myself watching TV at home the whole day, and I have so many things to do!” says Mr Bardin.
He had always wanted to volunteer, so retirement gave him the time and freedom to scout around for opportunities. “It is fulfilling to be able to give back to society,” he says cheerfully.
As he speaks only English and French, volunteering with elderly people who speak Asian languages or dialects was out of the picture. After visiting an open house event organised by RSVP Singapore The Organisation of Senior Volunteers in 2018, Mr Bardin decided to join its Mentoring Programme which gave him the opportunity to impact the lives of many children.
“The younger the children are, the bigger the influence you will be,” he explains.
Volunteering with children keeps him young
As the pupils Mr Bardin works with come “from difficult backgrounds and have low self-esteem”, he feels a deep sense of satisfaction when they finally break out of their shells and succeed at completing something, like an art and craft activity, that they initially could not comprehend.
He recalls a 12-year-old pupil who was, at first, quite impulsive. However, after spending a year teaching her to manage her temper through breathing exercises, she managed to pass her PSLE and even wrote him a heart-warming thank-you note.
“It was heartening to see her progress,” he says. “We have to push and guide these children, and help them believe in themselves.”
It is a win-win situation, as Mr Bardin feels young at heart when he interacts with children – because “they ask you so many questions”.
“Volunteering helps to keep you active mentally and physically after retirement. It is really one of the best ways to age well.”
Working with children in need also keeps him plugged in to the community. “Humans are social animals and need to interact with other people,” he says.
He emphasises that seniors do not have to be highly educated or have held certain positions at work to contribute their time and energy to society.
“Mentoring is just one way to volunteer. You don’t need a degree to help. The most important thing is to have the will and patience, and it is more of an emotional skill than an academic one,” he says.
Mr Bardin, who hopes to “stay young at heart, in body and in mind”, also keeps himself healthy by jogging three times a week and swimming when the weather is good. He drinks only plain water and loves cooking his own food so that he knows what goes into his meals.
He quips: “To age well is to eat well, too.”
Visit https://go.gov.sg/ifeelyoungsg to learn how seniors can stay physically, socially and digitally connected with their community and the people they love, supported by a senior-friendly ecosystem.
Senior volunteerism is a meaningful journey that goes a long way in touching hearts. Visit http://www.rsvp.org.sg to find out more.
This series is an initiative under the 2023 Action Plan for Successful Ageing.