Family who volunteers together, stays together

Madam Yeoh (right) and her family - (from left) daughter Tan Yi Ping, husband Tan Teow Heng and son Tan Zhi Yang - have been volunteering at the Patient Care Centre since 2009.
Madam Yeoh (right) and her family - (from left) daughter Tan Yi Ping, husband Tan Teow Heng and son Tan Zhi Yang - have been volunteering at the Patient Care Centre since 2009.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Helping others has made the Tans more open towards one another and taught them different life lessons

When it comes to spending quality time together, most families share a meal or watch a movie. For the Tans, however, family time involves attending to HIV-positive patients.

Madam Yeoh Lin Dai, 52, together with her husband, Mr Tan Teow Heng, 53, son Zhi Yang, 23, and daughter Yi Ping, 20, have been volunteering at the Patient Care Centre (PCC) since 2009.

They spend about two hours every Friday evening at the PCC, which is located within the Communicable Disease Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

The centre was established in 1996 with the aim of allowing those with HIV to reintegrate into society.

As volunteers, the Tans buy meals for the patients, talk to them and take them to attractions such as Universal Studios Singapore. They even massage the feet of some of the patients, as numbness is a common side effect of their medication.

Madam Yeoh, a senior staff nurse in TTSH's department of haematology, was the first to start volunteering at the PCC after being invited there by a friend. Her family members soon followed suit.

Volunteering together, they said, has made them more open with one another. Subjects such as sex and drugs are no longer taboo.

Their time with the patients has also taught them different life lessons which draw on patients' different experiences, said Madam Yeoh.

"We gain a lot more than we give," said Madam Yeoh, who recently won the Healthcare Humanity Award.

The younger Mr Tan said that volunteering provides a respite from the stresses of daily life.

"It's like a sanctuary," said the third-year National University of Singapore undergraduate.

Madam Yeoh said many patients with HIV still face societal stigma; some have been kicked out of their homes or are unable to find jobs.

This leads to some of them becoming depressed. The PCC refers those facing such problems to organisations which can help them.

"There needs to be more education," said Madam Yeoh, stressing that anti-HIV medications allow many patients to lead normal lives.

Richard (not his real name), 50, an HIV-positive patient who has been warded at the PCC since 2013, said that Madam Yeoh helps massage him when he has body aches.

"She has a good heart," he said.

The family's volunteer work at the centre has spurred them to do volunteer work elsewhere, both together and individually.

Madam Yeoh regularly goes on missions to other countries, such as Laos and Myanmar, to provide humanitarian and medical assistance.

Her family, including her husband, who is a project manager with a construction company, often accompanies her on these trips.

She also volunteers at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Redhill by assisting the doctors there.

Her passion has rubbed off on her children. The younger Mr Tan is chairman of his hall's Overseas Community Service Project.

His sister, who will be pursuing a degree in the history of art at the University of Glasgow later this year, hopes to spearhead art therapy programmes in the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2015, with the headline 'Family who volunteers together, stays together'. Print Edition | Subscribe