Volunteers help seniors look good in a snap

Window of Colours holds makeovers and photo shoot sessions for seniors for free

Madam Yong Ng Moi was smiling so broadly it threatened to split her face.

"The last time I had make-up on was during my wedding," the 88-year-old says in between giggles.

Madam Yong was at the Filos Community Services office in Chai Chee last Friday for a free makeover and photo shoot with about 30 other seniors.

Madam Yong Ng Moi (right), 88, and Madam Jennifer Wong (left), 59, getting ready for the camera at Filos Community Services centre after getting her make-up and hair done up by a group of volunteers. Madam Yong could barely contain her excitement and says the last time she had make-up on was during her wedding. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

The idea for the initiative came about after Ms Johanna Kiew, 47, a financial planner, accompanied her now 70-year-old mother to get her obituary photo taken by a studio.

"It gave my mother a boost of confidence and she became positive about life. So I thought that everyone should have the chance to do this too."

Madam Lily Yap, 64, is attended to by two hairstylists from hair salon NK Hairworks. Besides individuals, founder Johanna Kiew says the group has also managed to get hair salons and catering companies to come on board. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

She then rounded up friends to help her and contacted elderly services centres and churches to start free makeovers and photo shoot sessions for seniors. Participants are given a framed copy of the photo.

The group, now called Window of Colours, has done three such events since last November, with a fourth one planned for by the end of the year.

Madam Tum Yuet Chui, (right), 70, gets her make-up done by volunteer Amanda Mok, 37, in a meeting room that doubles up as the make-up room. This is the first time Ms Mok is volunteering with the group. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

The sessions are mostly self-funded by the volunteers, with some services provided by professional photographers and hairstylists.

"It's satisfying to make them look more beautiful because we're bringing out the best in people," says the group's co-founder, Ms Sharon Liew, who is also a financial planner.

Volunteer Liew Cheng Chwee (left), 58, helps Madam Joanne Ho, 68, choose an outfit while she is getting her hair done up before the photo session. The outfits are mostly borrowed by the volunteers from friends and family. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM 

But the taboo still remains.

Ms Kiew says the group does not mention openly to the elderly who come that the photos can be used for che tou zhao (Mandarin for photograph for the hearse).

Madam Tan Nyan Hua, 73, getting her make-up done by volunteers. Although cosmetics for these are usually funded by the volunteers for now, Ms Kiew says the group has plans to rope in sponsors for future events. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM 

She explains: "The more superstitious ones will not go ahead with the shoot if they find out about it.

"Some may get offended and shout 'choy choy choy' loudly."

Ms Kiew (right) and her mother, Madam Soo Kong Moy (left), 70, help Mr Chua Woon Chai, 58, try on a jacket before the photo shoot. Ms Kiew was inspired to do free makeovers for seniors after accompanying her mother to a photo shoot. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

This is when retired businessman and volunteer Lee Guan Tiat takes it upon himself to convince reluctant seniors, most of them younger than him, to sit for the portrait.

He tells them: "I'm 79, and if I can do it, why can't you?"

An elderly man gets his eyebrows trimmed by a volunteer during a make-up session before the photo shoot. The group has about 25 regular volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including taxi drivers, financial planners and retirees. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Some of the photos taken at earlier events have already been used for funerals, Ms Kiew says.

Volunteer photographer Ashley Cheang, 27, says: "I'm sad that they had to use the photos so soon. But I'm glad that, at least, they have nice photos of themselves."

Hairstylist Kevin Yap, 37, from NK Hairworks touches up the hair of Mr Tang Keong King, 77, before the photo shoot. Salon chain NK Hairworks volunteered for the events after hearing about it from one of their customers, a volunteer. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM 

While some may view it as macabre, participant Lily Yap appreciates the opportunity to have her obituary photo taken.

"I'm not pantang," she says using the Malay word for superstitious.

Volunteers Johanna Khiew (right), 47, Liew Cheng Chwee (left), 58, and photographer Ashley Cheang, 27, try to make a senior smile during the photo shoot. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

She adds: " This is my first time taking a studio photo. I'm already 64, when will I get a chance to do this again?"

Madam Wee Quee Eng, 74, poses for a photograph before (left) and after (right) her makeover session with volunteer group Window of Colours. The group hopes to boost the confidence of the elderly and underprivileged and give every senior an opportunity to have a decent obituary photograph. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Volunteers help seniors look good in a snap'. Print Edition | Subscribe