These days, the humble MP3 radio set gets little air time. But for some elderly people living alone, the old-fashioned portable player has been a source of solace during the pandemic.
The device, which is mostly used by the elderly, combines the traditional radio with an MP3 player. Users can listen to either the radio stations they like or programmes loaded onto MP3 cards.
Project Audible Cheer, an initiative that began in late April during the circuit breaker period, delivers the radio sets to vulnerable seniors.
The project, started by business psychologist Skye Yeo, aims to provide mental and emotional support through the radio sets.
Dr Yeo, who is in her 40s, was brainstorming for ways to help the elderly living alone in rental estates. These people were likely to have reduced social interaction during the circuit breaker period.
According to a 2018 report by the Centre for Ageing Research & Education, depressive symptoms are higher among elderly people who stay alone, compared with those living with their children.
Dr Yeo wanted to let these seniors know they were not alone.
She was inspired by her parents, who are in their 70s, to use music as a tool for outreach. "My mum has always been a music buff," she said. "I also realised that music can be comforting to the elderly when I saw my father turn to music when he was in his mid-70s."
She decided on MP3 radio sets over other devices as they are easier for the elderly, who may not be digitally savvy, to operate.
The devices also have rechargeable batteries, which means no recurring expenses for the users.
She first shipped the radio sets from suppliers in China to Singapore. Volunteers such as those from 3Pumpkins, a non-profit arts company, then helped to preload programmes created in Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and dialects onto the MP3 cards.
Many of these songs are old tunes that resonate with the elderly, who just have to press the play button to listen.
The sets are passed on to charitable and community organisations such as Touch Community Services and Be Kind SG to be distributed to their elderly beneficiaries.
Project treasurer Kelly Kam, 44, said many of the recipients were happy to receive the radio sets.
She recalled how an elderly man broke into a dance when she presented him with a set. "His face really lit up."
About 700 radio sets have been given out since April. Dr Yeo is now looking for new organisations to distribute 400 sets that have recently arrived in Singapore.
Project Audible Cheer is entirely volunteer-run. Ms Kam said the project hopes to bring cheer into the lives of the elderly.
"We want to show that we care about their well-being, so that they can retire happily and reminisce about their yesteryears through music."