Assisi Hospice volunteers who ensure that no patient dies alone honoured for good work

(Clockwise from top left) NUS Associate Professor Peter Pang, Blessings in a Bag founder Emily Teng, Citi Singapore spokesman Adam Abdur Rahman, Roses of Peace founder Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad, joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation Stephanie Yuen Thio, senior consultant opathalmologist at the National Healthcare Group Eye Institute Rupesh Agrawal, volunteer Anna Tham, and Assisi Hospice spokesperson Juliet Ng. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Singapore - The volunteers would take turns to sit by the bedside of terminally ill patients at Assisi Hospice, providing a listening ear, a hand to hold or whatever is needed to make their final hours more comfortable.

Over 70 of these patients - who may be single or estranged from their loved ones - did not die alone thanks to these bedside angels.

For their dedication, the Assisi Hospice and volunteers from its No One Dies Alone (Noda) programme have won the President's Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards, which represent the highest honours for volunteerism and philanthropy.

President Halimah Yacob gave out the awards on Wednesday night (Oct 24) at the Capella Singapore hotel to the Assisi Hospice and its Noda volunteers, which won in the Non-Profit Organisation category.

Ms Jacqueline Fisher, 40, a trainer who initiated the programme at Assisi Hospice in 2014, said: "Some people are afraid of death as it is so unknown. So having someone there (in their final days) can be comforting and reassuring."

Ms Fisher, a volunteer, added: "We feel it's a privilege (to volunteer) and there's something very powerful and meaningful to see someone off in their final days."

The programme has about 45 volunteers. They sign up for various reasons, including a woman who missed her mother's last moments as she fell asleep while caring for her and who did not want others to die alone.

But even before the final 48-hour vigil, volunteers would befriend these patients shortly after they are warded in the hospice.

Retiree Paul Koh, 64, befriended a patient, a divorcee in her 70s who was estranged from her only child and had erratic moods.

She enjoyed his company most of the time. But as her frustration with her deteriorating health grew and her speech became more incoherent, she would sometimes pinch him.

When it came to her final hours, Mr Koh was there holding her hands as she struggled to breathe. He also played her favourite song, Teresa Teng's Tian Mi Mi (Sweet As Honey), hoping that it would bring her some comfort.

She died peacefully.

On Wednesday, other award winners include Citi Singapore in the Large Enterprise category, TSMP Law Corporation in the small and medium-sized enterprise category and the National University of Singapore in the Educational Institution category.

TSMP Law Corporation, for example, donates 10 per cent of its profits to charity and provide pro bono legal services to charities and vulnerable individuals such as foreign workers.

Mr Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad, 29, took the honours in the individual category for youth. The Nominated Member of Parliament founded Roses of Peace, a non-profit group to promote inter-faith understanding and dialogue.

Dr Rupesh Agrawal, 43, senior consultant ophthalmologist at the National Healthcare Group Eye Institute, won in the adult category for individuals.

He and his brother started the Viraj Healthcare Foundation, which facilitates through its partners treatment for eye diseases for the poor in India and other Third World countries.

The winner in the senior individual category was Mrs Anna Tham, 84. She has volunteered for over 60 years with Girl Guides Singapore, mentoring and training Girl Guides and their teachers.

The Kampong Spirit category, for informal groups, was won by Blessings in a Bag. It was founded by former radio DJ Emily Teng, 31, in 2007 to collect items like clothes and toys for poor children in the region.

It now runs a programme called Beyond Awesome where volunteers befriend children from poor families to empower them. They do this by giving them experiences they otherwise may not have, like visiting companies such as Facebook or attending drama or art workshops.

Ms Teng, who now works as a marketing director, always had a heart for the underdog.

Her family struggled financially for a few years when she was in primary school after her father lost his job. Her mother worked as a secretary to feed the family of four, including a younger sister.

She said of the Beyond Awesome programme: "We are here to cheer them on, to listen to them and love them."

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