SINGAPORE - Teck Ghee resident Chen Yueh Lun, 81, has been helping her neighbours out during the 24 years she has been living at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.
The widow, who is retired, helps to collect and distribute food items for neighbours with mobility issues. She also helps the Residents' Committee check on neighbours if they pull the distress cord in their flats.
But when it comes to home cleaning, Madam Chen is happy to receive help herself, as she lives alone in her one-room rental flat and it is hard for her to reach higher places like the fan and windows. So student volunteers visit her about twice a month to help with cleaning and buy her lunch.
"I'm afraid if I climb up I'll fall down...I'm happy when the students come, we chat and I tell them stories," said Madam Chen in Mandarin.
Her neighbour Madam Hasnah Salleh, 75, also needs help with cleaning her flat as she has asthma, heart problems and back pain, so even mopping the floor can make her breathless.
Madam Chen and Madam Hasnah are among the senior citizens who benefit from Silver programmes run by the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC). Over the past four years, these programmes have included home cleaning, befriending and outings to places of interest
In an effort to raise its pool of volunteers to 10,000, the CDC launched a recruitment drive called The Silver Alliance on Saturday (April 22).
The CDC matches volunteer groups from companies and schools with seniors who need help, who are identified by grassroots organisations, residents' committees and senior activity centres. Last year, about 9,000 people volunteered for the Silver programmes.
Such programmes are important because about one in seven people here is aged 65 and above, and it is important for seniors to stay in the community and stay connected to others, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the launch event.
"It has to be not just within our families but also with friends and amongst our society in Singapore. We can take care of our old people and connect with them and make them feel they are valued citizens and have something to contribute," he said.
Mr Lee, who is an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, visited two residents' rental flats and helped volunteers to paint a wall and lay drop sheets to prevent paint spills.
Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua said more than half of Singapore's rental units are in the Central District and a large number of seniors live in these flats.
The Silver Alliance is a call to action and aims to nurture a culture of care in the community, "where we don't just perform a one time act...but have a passion and a culture of serving", she said.
"We want to make sure that those who are ageing are ageing well, whether they are of higher income or lower income. Especially those who are disadvantaged, I think the whole of society needs to come together to give them a leg up," she said.
"I strongly urge all of us, regardless of our age, our abilities, whatever our background, to go beyond ourselves to serve. One day all of us are going to be old as well...and we want to make this a home for everyone regardless of age, language, race or ability."
The Silver Alliance kicked off on Saturday with elderly residents in 32 flats in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 getting their homes spruced up by 120 students from Raffles Institution, Teck Ghee Primary School and Pathlight School.
Primary 6 pupil Seah Wei Xiong from Teck Ghee Primary said he volunteered when his teacher told the class about the chance to help the elderly. He helped to paint Madam Chen's flat and taught her how to take photos with her smartphone.
"I think it's a very meaningful programme. For some of the elderly their house is not as clean as ours, so I want to help them have a better environment," he said.
It can be an eye-opening experience for volunteers, who have encountered residents who have amassed a large number of belongings through hoarding, or who urinate around their home as they have difficulty getting to the bathroom due to mobility issues, said regular volunteer Lee Zhong Han, 20.
The full-time National Serviceman got involved with the Silver Homes programme three years ago when he was a student at Raffles Institution and organised sessions for more of his schoolmates to help out.
He said he enjoys interacting with the residents whose homes are being cleaned.
"We get to have lunch with them and hear their stories and advice. Some were abandoned by their kids. One woman told me her daughter died at age 24," he said.
"I learnt a lot, like to not take things for granted."