HOME IN FOCUS

Keeping hope alive amid a pandemic

Volunteers go door to door to check in on rental flat residents and offer essential aid

Volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive (KHA) knock on door after door across blocks of one-room rental flats, while decked from head to toe in protective gear, with sweat matting their hair and trickling down their backs.

The informal network founded in 2007 has been checking in on residents on Sundays, offering essential aid such as fixing leaks, changing light bulbs or giving out supermarket vouchers.

Their work has become all the more important during the Covid-19 outbreak as many elderly folk have been cooped up at home, sometimes unsure of who to turn to for help.

The volunteers had paused their activities for a month just before circuit breaker measures kicked in, but resumed on a fortnightly basis last month as they felt it was necessary to reach out to those in need.

Safety is a priority: They suit up in personal protective gear, with masks, face shields and gloves, keep to groups no larger than 10 and ensure that no more than two people enter a unit.

"We are helping to address urgent needs, especially those who cannot go out and may have a safety risk at home. They may need help like with food, and fixing things at home," said KHA founder Fion Phua. "Because they cannot go out, we search for those in need and go to them directly."

The volunteers have knocked on hundreds of doors in areas such as Chin Swee, York Hill, Spooner Road, Telok Blangah, Banda Street and Chai Chee in recent months.

The group resumed its weekly schedule on June 7 and is focusing on replacing appliances that may have broken down during the circuit breaker period, while continuing with the usual tasks, said Ms Phua.

The Straits Times accompanied KHA to Chinatown and Telok Blangah on June 7 to find out how the group continues to keep hope alive with kindness amid the outbreak.

At 8am, a small group donned protective gear and unloaded items meant for the residents such as mattresses, rice, masks, eggs and small pastries.

After a quick briefing, they split into smaller groups to visit different blocks and floors.

At one unit, volunteer Julie Bong helped Mr Leong Sum Kok, 73, check if his medication had expired and if he needed a new supply.

ADDRESSING URGENT NEEDS

We are helping to address urgent needs, especially those who cannot go out and may have a safety risk at home. They may need help like with food, and fixing things at home.

MS FION PHUA, founder of informal volunteer network Keeping Hope Alive.

HELPING DESPITE OUTBREAK

When they see us, they are grateful that we still come to help even though there is the pandemic happening.

MR RYAN LIM, who learnt the basics of plumbing so he could be of better help.

 
 
 
 

She also took his temperature and blood pressure, something the group has started doing amid the outbreak, given that seniors are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Ms Bong, a 55-year-old baker, has been volunteering with KHA for two years. She also volunteers about five times a week at a nursing home.

At another unit, Mr Ryan Lim, 41, helped an elderly woman fix her leaking sink. Mr Lim, who runs an online Facebook page selling womenswear with his wife, said he learnt the basics of plumbing on his own so he could be of better help.

"Many of the elderly tell us that they have many problems, but are having trouble finding people to help them fix them. When they see us, they are grateful that we still come to help even though there is the pandemic happening," he said.

The team also fixes electrical problems, helps to make medical appointments and replaces broken mobile phones so residents can keep in touch with their families.

Volunteers also help to replace the rubber on the bottom of walking sticks and attach a bell that the elderly can use.

The younger volunteers help rental flat residents check their eligibility for government help schemes, in particular the new ones rolled out over the past few months.

By late afternoon, the volunteers have spent hours sweating in their protective suits, but they continue to knock on doors chirpily.

"Hello, good afternoon, we are volunteers. Is anyone home?"

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2020, with the headline 'Keeping hope alive amid a pandemic'. Print Edition | Subscribe