Causes Week - ANGELS IN HOMES AND HOSPITALS

Causes Week 2018: Volunteers let their hair down for patients

From next January, Bright Vision Hospital will introduce a weekly pop-up salon, where patients can enjoy a free haircut, manicure and pedicure by volunteers.
Volunteer Susan Law, 69, keeping patient Syed Mohammed, 66, entertained while hairstylist Doreen Liew, another volunteer, cuts his hair during the basic hair-cutting service for patients of Bright Vision Hospital. From next month, pop-up salons like
Volunteer Susan Law, 69, keeping patient Syed Mohammed, 66, entertained while hairstylist Doreen Liew, another volunteer, cuts his hair during the basic hair-cutting service for patients of Bright Vision Hospital. From next month, pop-up salons like this one will be set up every week instead of just once a month.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Hairstylists give free haircuts to elderly patients in a hospital, a band plays for residents of nursing homes, while needy seniors will get new pillows from a social service organisation.

Professional hairstylist Doreen Liew is no stranger to demands for the trendiest hairdos in her day-to-day work but, once a month, she finds it equally satisfying giving patients at Bright Vision Hospital (BVH) basic haircuts.

The 50-year-old, who works freelance at a hair salon in Raffles Place, has been volunteering at the hospital since March. She is one of a pool of 30 volunteers who provide grooming services for patients at Singapore's first public community hospital.

Ms Liew said: "During a haircut, some patients will tell me stories of their younger days. How they loved to dress up, go to discos, or go shopping for clothes. I feel like their whole being comes alive when they're sharing these memories."

Another volunteer, 84-year-old Madam Lee Chik, has helped out at BVH for more than 15 years.

"Sometimes they show me pictures of their younger selves and tell me to give them a similar hairstyle. I ask them how is that possible when they don't have much hair left! I have to coax them as if they were children and assure them they still look good," quipped Madam Lee in Cantonese.

The retired hairdresser takes a two-hour bus ride from her three-room flat in Taman Jurong to the hospital every month. In her younger days, she would climb on the beds of bedridden patients to cut their hair, she said.

It is the dedication of volunteers like Ms Liew and Madam Lee that has helped to keep the basic hair-cutting programme at BVH going since 2002, and growing.

 

From next month, a pop-up salon complete with mirrors, blow dryers and an iconic barber's pole will be set up at the hospital once a week, instead of once a month. The salon is fully funded by donations raised by the hospital through an online crowdfunding campaign via the volunteering portal, Giving.sg.

Ms Nina Wong, community relations manager of BVH, said the monthly sessions were rushed. Sometimes there could be 10 hairdressers tending to 70 patients in the span of three hours.

She hopes the new pop-up salon, which will add beard-shaving, manicures and pedicures to its grooming services, will allow patients the time to enjoy the experience.

Ms Liew said she felt appreciated for her time spent volunteering at the hospital. "Some of the patients can't express themselves well, but I can feel the gratitude in their eyes."

  • Anyone who wishes to contribute to the project can get in touch with Bright Vision Hospital by e-mail at community@bvh.org.sg.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 23, 2018, with the headline 'Volunteers let their hair down for patients'. Print Edition | Subscribe