Successful ageing

Friends you can count on

Community befrienders (from left) Mrs Chan, Mr Chan and PCS befriender coordinator Chia Hang Sing with their befriendees, Mr and Mrs Tan. PHOTO: JAC WOO
Community befrienders (from left) Mrs Chan, Mr Chan and PCS befriender coordinator Chia Hang Sing with their befriendees, Mr and Mrs Tan. PHOTO: JAC WOO

Mr and Mrs Walter Chan volunteer as community befrienders to lend a sympathetic ear to lonely seniors

While some teenagers preferred to hang out with friends during their free time, 17-year-old Walter Chan Yee Cheong would volunteer his time and effort to help the needy.

Now 56, Mr Chan has been actively involved in various types of volunteer work since then.

He recalls: “I started doing volunteer work in 1980 by giving free tuition and organising activities for children of low-income families.”

A heart for the elderly

“In 2017, I came to know about the Presbyterian Community Services (PCS) Community Befriending Programme when my church requested for volunteers,” says Mr Chan, a private-hire car driver.

The programme is an initiative that connects befrienders with socially isolated seniors to provide regular companionship and emotional support.

“I wanted to help because I know many seniors are living alone and I feel for them, especially when I hear stories of those not being cared for by their children,” he says.

He encouraged his wife, Ms Tan Bee Lian, 53, an insurance agent, to volunteer as community befrienders together.

“To my delight, she agreed without a second thought,” he says.

Patience and passion matter

As parents of three children in their 20s, Mr and Mrs Chan are glad they have flexible working hours that enable them to visit their befriendees on weekdays, when the seniors are mainly alone and need someone to talk to.

The couple currently has four befriendees, whom they call and visit twice a month.

The befriendees include patients who need someone to follow up on their recovery condition after being discharged from the hospital.

One of them is Mr Tan Cheng Aun, 64, who has dementia and is unable to walk properly after a fall in the toilet.

In September 2017, the Chans, together with a PCS befriender coordinator, visited Mr Tan and his wife at their home.

Mr Chan recalls: “Our first visit was actually quite unpleasant because Mr Tan felt very uneasy and showed signs of resistance, as he thought we wanted to sell him things or had ill intentions.

“Although he softened after our explanation, he was still very quiet during our first two visits.

“After a few more visits, we were able to break the ice with our sincerity. Gradually, he opened up and treated us as friends, and even started to joke with us.

“Three months later, he saw us as family and would always tell us to help ourselves to the drinks in his kitchen.”

Touching and changing lives

With help from the Chans, the Tans managed to find new friends and lead a more active social life.

Initially, Mr Tan did not like to go outdoors. His wife was concerned that he would suffer from depression if he kept sitting at home.

With the Chans’ constant encouragement, he eventually started to go out more in his electric wheelchair, accompanied by his wife.

The Chans also invited the Tans to join the Tembusu Senior Activity Centre nearby, where Mr Tan discovered the fun of drumming and singing with other seniors.

Mr Chan says: “Last year, we invited them and other befriendees to a lunch organised by PCS at a Chinese restaurant.

“Both of them enjoyed it very much. They were grateful for the opportunity to join us and thankful for the befrienders who provided transport for them.”

Just like family

The joy on the faces of the people they help makes it all worth the effort of being a befriender, says Mr Chan.

“Some of the elderly women we visit remind me of my late mother, thus I treat them like my parents. They are always very eager to meet us and will call and ask, ‘Are you coming to see me soon?’

“When we see the happiness in them, it makes us happy as well,” he adds.