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Students bond with elderly residents over a pot of soup

In fast-paced Singapore, there are those in need - and those who go out of their way to meet those needs. This is part of a series on noteworthy causes The Straits Times is spotlighting.

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Rachael Seow on 16 May 2018

The Straits Times

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"One, two, three... bend forward," a bunch of students yell in unison at a group of seniors.

 

The elderly members of an exercise group do as they are told, stretching their sore and stiff backs. The students holler another set of instructions and the group again follows.

 

The stretching session follows an upbeat dance performance put up by the students and a session in which the group shows off skills in old-school games such as five stones and pick-up sticks.

 

The afternoon's activities - held at the residents' committee (RC) centre at Block 123 Marsiling Road - were organised by a group of Secondary 2 students from the neighbouring Woodlands Secondary School.

 

They form part of the Singapore-wide Share a Pot initiative, a community-based programme that aims to improve the social and physical well-being of seniors.

 

After the activities, the residents enjoy a hearty meal prepared by the students - including a pot of soup, from which the scheme takes its name.

 

The concept involves elderly people uniting and encouraging one another to live well by eating and exercising together.

 

The north district's Share a Pot kitchen is a joint collaboration between Woodlands Secondary School and Woodlands Health Campus (WHC), a member of the National Healthcare Group, and is supported by the North West Community Development Council.

 

What makes it different from the other Share a Pot chapters across Singapore is that the weekly programme, which started last month, is entirely led and run by students.

 

The 215-strong Secondary 2 cohort plays an active role.

 

The teens identify a suitable location for the activities and which residents most need their support. They also plan and execute each session.

 

The project serves residents from the surrounding blocks 180A, B and C. Residents of other blocks in the vicinity are also welcome.

 

Prior to the project, the students knocked on doors to meet the elderly residents and find out their needs and preferences.

 

The students come together during their Character and Citizenship Education periods and after school to organise each session.

 

On Thursdays, they go to the RC centre in batches of about 20 to carry out the activities.

 

Student Rainey Kee, 14, said: "We are happy to know about their lives, that they are willing to share with us their problems."

 

She added that this interaction was especially meaningful to her because she lives in the same block as some of the participants.

 

"The elderly who live around me usually live alone and they are not able to go out often. This hopefully lifts a weight off their shoulders," she said.

 

The students, with WHC's guidance, also help to conduct simple health assessments. These involve measuring seniors' balance, flexibility and strength, allowing the students to better tailor activities according to their needs.

 

On why the students chose traditional games for the seniors to play, Rainey said: "We wanted them to remember some of their childhood memories and be carefree. It also had to be something they could sit down and play. Some of them can't walk too well."

 

Studies have shown that a key problem faced by seniors is their lack of social interaction and hence their potential social and emotional isolation.

 

Living alone has also been linked to health issues, as there is no one to monitor the person's medical condition.

 

A study by researchers at the National University of Singapore showed that elderly Singaporeans who live alone are 1.7 times as likely to die prematurely as those living with friends or family.

 

This is often the case for elderly residents in these blocks identified, many of whom live alone and have limited social support, according to WHC.

 

For Mrs Lilian Pang, the sessions are a much-needed break.

 

The 71-year-old lives with her husband, who three years ago was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder that attacks the central nervous system.

 

She is his sole caregiver.

 

"It is tiring. I've lost 10kg since his sickness. I have to help him stretch but I need to stretch myself," she added, as her joints are often sore too.

 

"This is a chance for me to take a break, exercise and have some fellowship with the friends here.

 

"It's a good event for the elderly. They don't do (stretches) at home every day. Now they come down, they make an effort to stretch."

 

She said that before participating in Share a Pot, she did not know many of her neighbours.

 

Asked if she would continue to attend every Thursday, she nodded enthusiastically, saying: "I came three times already."

 

Madam S. Puspavalli, 62, another elderly resident, was happy to share her experience but her only condition was: "Talk after the exercise; I exercise first."

 

She also plans to attend every week, and she especially enjoyed the eating session with the students.

 

"There is something magical about the interaction between students and older residents," said Dr Wong Sweet Fun, WHC's clinical director for population health.

 

"Young people often want to make a difference, and are brimming with energy to contribute to their communities."

 

Mrs Pang added: "We appreciate the students - the food is cooked by the students, they bring old folks together, teach them exercises.

 

"The only thing is twice a week would be better, and better for our mobility also."

 

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.