Causes Week 2020: Recovered Covid-19 patient brings back the kampung spirit to help seniors in need

Causes Week runs this year from Dec 20 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community.

Mayflower Primary School student Nurul Netrisya with her grandmother and Kampung Kaki volunteer Tracy Bay. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Ms Mae Tan, an account manager in a fintech company, co-founded Kampung Kakis. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MAE TAN

SINGAPORE - Two days after she returned to Singapore from a trip to the United States in March, Ms Mae Tan was diagnosed with Covid-19.

During her week-long recovery at the National University Hospital, Ms Tan's thoughts went out to seniors living in isolation and fearing exposure to the virus.

The 28-year-old, an account manager in a fintech company, later co-founded Kampung Kakis, a community initiative to help connect needy seniors with helpful volunteers in their neighbourhood.

"I wanted to do something for the community once I recovered from Covid-19, and pass along some of the kindness I received during my time at the hospital," said Ms Tan.

It is now an islandwide project, roping in about 1,000 volunteers and reaching 400 beneficiary households.

"The plan was to reduce the distance that people would have to travel to volunteer, which is why we are trying to galvanise neighbours to help one another and stay close to their homes," said Ms Tan.

The initiative helped 10-year-old Nurul Netrisya forge a strong bond with volunteer Tracy Bay over the past five months.

Nurul's paternal grandmother, Madam Saengmai, 60, is her primary caregiver as both her parents are absent. They live in a two-room flat in Ang Mo Kio.

Over the years, Madam Saengmai used her savings and received support from her local family service centre to care for Nurul. The Mayflower Primary School pupil also taps the Education Ministry's Financial Assistance Scheme for her educational needs.

A social worker advised Madam Saengmai to contact Kampung Kakis and engage a volunteer. In late June, they met Ms Bay, 41, who lives a few blocks away.

Said Ms Bay: "I signed up on the Kampung Kaki website after knowing about (Ms Tan's) story of surviving Covid-19 and setting up the initiative. I was inspired by her spirit and wanted to know how I could help in the neighbourhood."

The civil servant helped Nurul with her schoolwork, guiding her through her weaker subjects. Nurul, who aspires to be a doctor or a dancer one day, described Ms Bay as a kind and helpful friend.

Their meetings came to a halt when Madam Saengmai suffered a stroke on July 31.

Mayflower Primary School student Nurul Netrisya and Civil servant and Kampung Kaki volunteer Tracy Bay with Madam Saengmai at her home. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

She was rushed off for treatment, underwent surgery and remained at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for a month. During this time, Nurul stayed with other relatives, unable to visit her grandmother due to the safety restrictions in place. Ms Bay tried to keep in touch with her virtually during the difficult time.

Said Nurul: "Because my grandmother was at the hospital, I could not focus in school. When she came back from the hospital, I cried a lot. I was so happy to see her."

During the school holidays, Nurul and Ms Bay have put the textbooks aside and picked up gardening.

When asked how the volunteering experience has affected her, Ms Bay said: "When we live within our comfort zones, it is difficult to understand the lives of others around us. This initiative has helped me break through that and widened my perspective."

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