Caption: Befriender Esther enjoys lending a listening ear to vulnerable seniors
"Each senior is different so we need to adapt to see what they are comfortable with. We must be patient in winning their trust before they can open up to us."
Volunteering can be a journey of self-discovery. As a retiree, Mdm Esther Chee, 63, spends a few days a week befriending seniors. She discovered her passion in serving the elderly when she was working in a day care dementia centre and a nursing home some years ago.
Early this year, Esther was approached by a staff from TOUCH Cluster Support in Yishun to volunteer as a befriender. She readily agreed as she had time on her hands and was actively searching for volunteering opportunities. Her volunteering journey with TOUCH grew further when she went on to volunteer at TOUCH Active Ageing at Yishun Blk 436. Partnering another senior befriender, Mr Tian Foo, Esther currently has two befriendees in their 70s and 80s under her care.
“I was looking for something meaningful to do after I retired. Although I have experience working with seniors in my previous jobs, I am still learning. Each senior is different so we need to adapt to see what they are comfortable with. We must be patient in winning their trust before they can open up to us,” said Esther.
Caption: Mr Chan (left) and Esther (right) engaging in a lively chat
Esther’s role as a befriender includes making frequent calls to her befriendees and visiting them to provide psychosocial support. One of her first befriendees was Mr Chan Weng Foo, 85, who lives alone. Mr Chan suffers from diabetes and has a heart condition. His wife and two sons have passed on. Mr Chan was initially withdrawn and kept mostly to himself. All that changed when he was hospitalised. Esther’s patience and persistence in reaching out to him touched his heart.
A turning point
“I was encouraged to see my befriendee finally opening up to me. Previously, Mr Chan would cut off my calls and frankly, I almost gave up. But when he was hospitalised and grew lonely and frustrated, I was there for him and that made a difference. I listened to his grievances and gave him advice on how he could ask the medical staff regarding his condition,” added Esther.
From then on Esther and Mr Chan were no longer strangers. With training in nursing and counselling, Esther was able to apply her skillsets in observing and understanding the needs of her befriendees. For example, she helped Mr Chan to manage his grief and unresolved issues in life, providing him some form of closure.
Caption: Esther (left) using her skills learnt as a therapy assistant to connect with Mr Chan (right)
Caption: Befriendee Mr Chan feels happy to be in the company of befrienders and seniors
“I have learnt so much from Mr Chan. He has gone through losses and hardships yet he remains hopeful. He has embraced life with grit and tenacity. There’s so much positivity in him. I hope more seniors can come forward to volunteer and reach out to the vulnerable. As seniors, we have so much to give and we should not underestimate our abilities. Everyone can be someone to spark joy in someone’s life,” added Esther.
Moving forward, Esther hopes to mentor more senior befrienders, and looks forward to sharing her volunteering experiences to inspire others to give back to the community.