Successful ageing

Bringing cheer to other seniors

Volunteer work keeps Madam Renuka Devi Ratty, 66, physically and mentally active

Strict upbringing by her father, who was a firm disciplinarian, left Madam Victoria Rany Francis with a lifelong fear of speaking to strangers.

To avoid prying neighbours, the 82-year-old keeps the windows and door of her three-room flat closed most of the time.

She says in Tamil: "I don't like talking to nosy people, especially those who keep asking why I don't live with my children. Some even said my children are very bad to leave me alone, but this is not true."

Madam Francis has three daughters and a son who are all married, and 10 grandchildren. Despite her children's pleas to move in with them, she insisted on living in her own flat and rented out a room to be financially independent.

She spent her time watching television and did not have any friends until Madam Renuka Devi Ratty began visiting her last February.

Madam Ratty, 66, is a volunteer with the Community Befriending Programme run by Fei Yue Community Services in her Commonwealth neighbourhood. The programme's volunteers befriend seniors to keep loneliness and isolation at bay.

Usually shy and quiet around strangers, Madam Francis felt comfortable with Madam Ratty from her first visit.

Madam Ratty affectionately addresses Madam Francis as Akka, which means elder sister in Tamil. Of her twice-a-month visits, Madam Ratty says: "It makes me happy to hear the excitement in her voice each time I call her to tell her I am coming over.

"I enjoy listening to her tell stories of her childhood in India, talk about recipes or update me on the latest episodes of the Tamil drama serial that she loves watching."

Madam Francis' daughter, Madam Maureen Francis, 58, a part-time exam invigilator, appreciates Madam Ratty spending time with her mother.

She says: "I have not seen my mother so animated, cheerful and talking so freely with anyone except our own family members.

"I can tell she really enjoys Renu's company. I feel happy for my mother that she has finally made a friend. She won't admit it, but I know she does feel lonely at times."

The children visit their mother every week, but they worry about her.

"This is the first home that my late father bought. It holds a lot of memories for her and we understand why she does not want to move out to live with us," says Maureen. "I have more peace of mind knowing that there is someone in the neighbourhood looking out for my mother."

Madam Ratty signed up to be a befriender in November 2016. Staff from Fei Yue Community Services had approached her to tell her about the Community Befriending Programme.

She says: "As I enjoy interacting with people, I thought this would be a meaningful way to spend time with other seniors and let them know there are people in the community who care about them."

Joining the programme has also helped Madam Ratty get to know more people in her neighbourhood since she moved to Commonwealth in February 2016.

She lives with her second daughter, 45, and a son, 43. Her eldest daughter is married. Her children encouraged her to be a volunteer.

"My children are proud of me and I find it rewarding to help ease the loneliness of the seniors I visit. Being a senior does not mean you cannot help others," she says.

"Volunteer work keeps me physically and mentally active. I don't dwell on my own problems and I have made new friends."

• This series is an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.

• To sign up as a volunteer befriender, go to or call the Singapore Silver Line on 1800-650-6060 for more details.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline Bringing cheer to other seniors. Subscribe