New NHB kit features 1950s and 1960s icons and items to spark conversations with elderly

The new conversation starter kit for seniors launched by the National Heritage Board on Tuesday (Nov 21). PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
The kit features a total of 40 photos from the 1950s and 1960s. PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

SINGAPORE - Children had to be inventive to communicate in the the era without mobile phones. One way to get in touch with a friend living below in the same apartment block was to yell into the rubbish chute.

Ms Maria Yee, 60, a retired laboratory technician, recalled these childhood memories when prompted with images of games of the past as part of a new conversation starter kit launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) on Tuesday (Nov 21).

The senior from Touch Senior Activity Centre said the kit helped to structure some of her memories and recall forgotten moments. She recounted how she had gotten lost as a seven-year-old and how she managed to find her way back home after approaching a police officer.

She also remembered that, despite the dangers, floodwaters the colour of "Lipton tea" became a swimming pool for the kids.

She said: "We had such wild days and stories. We were bold and adventurous."

The kit features a total of 40 photos mainly from the 1950s and 1960s. The images have been split into two booklets - one on lifestyle and the other on places. They have been designed as prompts for volunteers and eldercare workers to use while engaging the elderly on heritage topics.

The lifestyle booklet includes photos of a mobile tea stall, charcoal stove, meat safe, spittoon and Setron Television set. The places booklet features sites such as Happy World Amusement Park, Capitol Theatre and a village in Seletar.

The project is part of NHB's efforts to "help bridge the gap between, and better connect, different generations of Singaporeans" through meaningful conversations about Singapore's heritage.

Targeted at the elderly, it was co-developed with the National Council of Social Service and a number of social services organisations including Care Corner Seniors Services, Sage Counselling Centre, Touch Community Services and Yong-en Care Centre.

The kit will be made available to about 60 eldercare centres next year. It will also be available for use at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, the Malay Heritage Centre and the Indian Heritage Centre in January.

Touch's senior director of social work and programme development, Ms Julia Lee, the leader of the kit project describes it as a facilitation tool with multiple purposes.

She said it enables volunteers to go beyond basic greetings and engage the elderly in more meaningful conversation. It also helps the elderly to stimulate their minds. The conversations that follow contribute to the elderly person's sense of "dignity" and personhood, according to Ms Lee. She also said the kit "helps volunteers break the ice, and be empowered to engage seniors more confidently".

Another story that emerged from the kit was from Madam Ainon Abass, 76, a retired factory worker, who recalled how she used to escape paying for bus fares as a young girl. This came about after a volunteer shared with her a photograph of a Singapore Traction Company bus from the 1960s.

She said: "It (the photo) reminded me of how I used to hide from the bus conductor as I wanted to save my fare to buy rojak to eat. I was playing hide-and-seek on the bus. The volunteer and I could not stop laughing. I was so naughty then."

The kit is also one of NHB's initiatives under its "Our SG Heritage Plan". Announced earlier this year, the plan aims to make heritage more accessible to Singaporeans and to map out a national vision for the museum and heritage landscape.

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