Bright Hill Evergreen Home
4 March 2017
As my very first interaction experience in an old folks home, I had anticipated that all the elderly to warmly welcome our presence and be fully participative in conversations. I had neglected the fact that there could be elderly that were immobile, with dementia, and having medical issues. I had envisioned them to be in the pink of health, and as enthusiastic as my own grandmother at seeing me. however, that was not the case. upon arrival we all saw the less well known side of old folk homes.
Several aunties were shouting words that were simply indecipherable. we set to begin the day by initiating an interaction, although it was tough to hold a conversation due to either language barrier or the lack of reciprocation, we pressed on. to our surprise, quite a few of the old women replied after some effort and we began asking questions on their life and if they enjoy activities that other volunteer groups plan for them and what type of activities they enjoy participating in.
At 9 am, it was snack time and Jia Min had bought lots of pandan cake for the old folks to enjoy and it was rather heartening to see the old folks to look a little more active. several aunties could not eat solid food so a few of us had to feed them either by spoon or a syringe. I fed one old lady with a spoon from a cup and at first I assumed she was able to sip from the spoon so I placed the spoon at her lips and i realised it didn't work out so i placed the spoon inside her mouth and she seemed fine as we progressed and soon the cup was nearly empty. however, I don't know what upset her but she started to shake her head vigorously and refused to have another mouthful and nearly cried while muttering inaudibly, stunned and unsure of what to do, I looked over to a nurse and she came by and told me that I should stop feeding the auntie as she's had enough.
Soon, snack time was over and we started up conversations again. one of the old women complimented each and every one of us and it was really sweet and soon we started up an impromptu karaoke session and the whole room was filled with old Hokkien and Chinese songs, and the atmosphere felt light for what seemed like the first time that day.
Although it was a bumpy experience and it was not easy, I feel like this was a fantastic learning experience for us and a good way of giving back, and would definitely do it again.
I have never specifically volunteered at an elderly’s home. Personally, the volunteer experience at Bright Hill’s Elderly Home has been a rather enriching and eye-opening experience. It was indeed an experience that not only cleared up personal myths that I had regarding elderly homes, but also one that allowed me to reflect on how lucky I am to be born into this generation. The learning that I have taken out of this experience would undoubtedly be an invaluable asset to me now, even more so in future.
From this experience, I realized that elderly homes aren’t as peaceful and the environment wasn’t as light-hearted as I thought it would be. Growing up, I have always associated volunteering at elderly homes with games, performances, and generally the want to want to interact with the volunteers. However, I soon understood that that might not be so as some of the elderlies were unwilling to interact and converse with us.
Initially, I was feeling quite dejected as I was unable to get any responses from any of the elderlies that I approached. As a generally rather loud and social person, I felt out of place as I did not really know what I should say or do when someone does not respond to my greetings and questions. It was definitely a huge step out of my comfort zone and one of the many “first-times” I faced through the whole volunteering experience.
It was definitely something that I did not expect to happen. Nonetheless, I adapted along with the situation and soon became more comfortable and interacted with the elderly who were more vocal and willing to interact with us.
Other than the rejection from some of the elderlies, there also arose a problem of a pretty severe language barrier. Most of the elderlies are unable to communicate with us fluently in English nor Chinese as they grew up speaking different dialects. Personally, the pre-existing problem of a language barrier was not that severe as I grew up in a Hokkien and Teochew dominant family, where a majority of my direct and extended family members would constantly speak in both Hokkien and Teochew to each other.
Despite so, I have yet to fully master both dialects and tend to mix both up at times. However, growing up in a such an environment, I faced little problems with communicating with a fraction of the elderlies. Though I struggled in finding the correct terms at times, the elderlies that I was talking to always seemed to know what I was going to say.
I particularly remember this one elderly woman whom I was conversing with most of the time. She shared with me, albeit in Hokkien, a dialect I was familiar with, but not quite fluent in, her many life experiences and her takeaways from her experiences. Although I knew, not personally, that life was not as easy as we have it now, I did not truly understand the pains of the life that our pioneer generation had gone through.
She told me about how she worked as a maid at someone else’s house and had to struggle with earning a living and taking care of her siblings at the same time. Not only so, even after she got married and grew old, she was unable to enjoy her life as she had to continue working and did not have any sons nor daughters. I also felt a pang of sadness in me when I heard that her husband had died a few years back.
As she was sharing her story, I felt the immense luckiness of being born in the 21st century and not having to work from a young age. Currently at 15, I have never had to work one bit to get the things that I have. Since young, I was able to get whatever I wanted just by simply asking for it or throwing a tantrum.
Her story made me feel more appreciative of what I have. When I got home that day, I felt that I have not appreciated the things and people around me enough. I realized that having such people who constantly stood by my side to support me, and having such material possessions to help and aid me in my daily life, such people and things aren’t something that everyone is entitled to. Rather, they are something I’m privileged to have, and they are some things that I need to show appreciation and be grateful for...
Thank you Carolina and Bernice for your thoughts & for joining us on SBMY's first community service session of the year! Thank you for taking time & courage (as it was your first time doing community service) and we hope to see more of you soon!
(If any of the readers [hello you!] are interested to join us, do drop us a message at the side or follow us on instagram @sbmyouth or like our facebook page for updates: www.facebook.com/sbmyouth/ )
May all of you be well and happy!