Award-winning Sota student brings theatre to the elderly as a way to connect

Dawn Lim (centre), spends four to 10 hours a week volunteering as a Youth Corps Singapore ambassador.
Dawn Lim (centre), spends four to 10 hours a week volunteering as a Youth Corps Singapore ambassador.PHOTO: ANDY TAY

Ever since initiating a theatre troupe at her school in Shanghai, Ms Dawn Lim's belief in the value of theatre has bled into every facet of her life, including volunteering.

The twenty-year-old helms the Happy Club - her own project in collaboration with Montfort Care, a non-profit social service organisation - which is dedicated to encouraging healthy ageing in the elderly by utilising the skill she knows best.

Ms Lim, who was a theatre student at the School of the Arts (Sota), received the Dr Lee Boon Yang award for exceptional scholastic achievement as well as outstanding performance in arts and leadership in her school's award ceremony held Thursday (May 16).

Her list of academic achievements is impressive: the Excellence (Academic) Award, the Excellence (Arts) Award for Theatre, the Academic Award for Higher Level Biology and the Academic Award for Standard Level History.

On top of these academic feats, Ms Lim spends four to 10 hours a week volunteering as a Youth Corps Singapore ambassador.

"It's my main hobby," she admitted. "I don't spend much time on YouTube and all that."

Having moved to Shanghai when she was just four years old with her parents, Ms Lim only moved back to Singapore in 2016, and was determined to find some connection with the place she was born in. Spending time with the elderly during her stints in the Youth Corp, she found it easier to forge friendships with them than with her peers.

 
 

Plus, her work with the elderly often feeds into her training as a theatre student, and vice versa, she added.

The way she marries the two is by using traditional theatre exercises as an interactive form of therapy. "I try to start them out by getting them comfortable with touch, such as asking them to shake hands or exchange hugs, which creates a kind of 'kampong spirit' among the group," Ms Lim said.

She then brings in an object for the seniors to 'explore'. "Once, we brought in a washing board for them to play around with. Some used it as an instrument, some started reminiscing about the days before washing machines existed. One lady with dementia just automatically started scrubbing - she was so used to the motion!"

Ms Lim plans to go into social work as a possible career path, and said she got the idea of mixing volunteerism and theatre when she researched the effects of theatre on people, for a two-year long school assignment.

"Usually initiatives for the elderly just focus on getting them to exercise - there's no opportunity for them to talk about anything deeper. Theatre opens people up," she said.

Singapore's Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng, who was a guest of honour at the Sota award ceremony, commended the efforts of Ms Lim and other young arts practitioners like her.

"These are all meaningful efforts to reach out to the community and to make the arts accessible to all. Such initiatives add value to student's education beyond school, and help our young generation grow as leaders."