One is never too old to be a volunteer 

One is never too old to be a volunteer 

Caption: Maria believes that a giver must always put the interest of others first without expecting anything in return

Retired lab technician-turned-befriender volunteers as art coach
Ms Maria Yee, 63, is not only a hygiene expert but is also honing her artistic skills. The food laboratory technician of 30 years, who retired more than five years ago, spent years conducting tests to spot bacteria in airline food. Her sharp sense of curiosity in how cells work can be seen in how she inspects each brush stroke, colour and gradient in bringing objects to life.

It all started during the Circuit Breaker period as centre activities were suspended and seniors were urged to stay at home. Maria was then invited by staff from TOUCH Senior Activity Centre (TSAC) in Geylang Bahru to take part in a 12-week virtual art session conducted by Ms Jae Tay, founder of Artify Studios, and her volunteer artists. Their goal is to help seniors stay mentally and socially engaged while teaching them new skills.

To prepare seniors for the virtual sessions, TOUCH staff taught them how to use WhatsApp videoconferencing and handphone cameras.

“I wasn’t interested in art at first. But I decided to support the efforts. I am a senior befriender and I know that TOUCH is trying its best to reach out to seniors especially during the pandemic,” said Maria.

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Caption: Seniors taking part in the virtual art sessions by Artify’s volunteer artists.

Everyone has talents

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Caption: Paintings by seniors from TSAC (Geylang Bahru)

Together with 20 seniors who were paired with eight volunteer artists virtually, Maria learnt to compose a picture, mastering art techniques on composition, light and shadow. The seniors also learnt watercolour painting.

“When I saw the finished artwork, I was speechless. I could not believe it was created by me. And, when I saw the seniors’ art pieces, I felt so inspired. Despite being in their 80s and 90s, they are not afraid to use WhatsApp to learn how to draw and paint. They are awesome!”, added Maria.

A journey of self-discovery

Caption: Maria reflecting on life and drawing inspiration from nature as she sketches her artwork

Caption: A colourful display of Maria’s artwork

Maria was then selected to receive further training from Artify’s volunteer artists. From there, she learnt advanced art techniques and progressed to exploring nature painting outdoors, and oil pastels and charcoal drawing.

At that time, Maria felt a strong urge to keep the momentum going for seniors who had earlier attended the virtual art sessions.

“I was thinking it will be a waste if things came to a standstill. We have come so far. No matter how old we are, there are hidden gems in each of us, waiting to be discovered. If I can be in a position to make that happen, why not?”, quipped Maria.

Empowered to give back to seniors
Maria then approached the team at TSAC to explore the idea of conducting small group weekly art sessions so that seniors can continue to apply what they have learnt and as they paint. With support from TOUCH, Maria then consulted Artify’s volunteer art coach on the art syllabus. Artify Studios also chipped in to help by donating art materials for seniors.

Early this year, a group of eight met for their first virtual art session at TSAC. It was happy moment for the seniors as they could paint in a relaxing and familiar environment with their friends.

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Caption: Maria (standing) conducting a physical art session at TSAC (Geylang Bahru)

Caption: Mr Kan Weng Poh (top), 80, and Mdm Wong Ah Cheong (bottom), 84, proudly holding their lovely paintings

Caption: Maria coaching seniors via WhatsApp videoconferencing

Volunteers can be a catalyst to create a ripple effect.  At TOUCH Community Services, we believe in a society where people can be empowered and valued. Like Maria, seniors can tap on their strengths and find ways to contribute to lead fulfilling lives. Because #EveryoneCanBeSomeone.