SINGAPORE - While reaching out to senior citizens to explain government schemes, Madam Kalyanasundaram Chandrakala met an elderly man who said he really missed home-cooked Indian food.
The 51-year-old made the effort to find a friend who could provide and deliver meals to him, and he enjoyed the food, as it reminded him of his mother's cooking.
On Sunday (Sept 1) afternoon, Madam Kala was one of 16 volunteers who received Exemplary Silver Generation (SG) Ambassador awards at the Singapore Expo. The award recognises outstanding individuals who went the extra mile in supporting seniors.
Another 1,000 volunteers received the SG Ambassador Service award, which recognises dedicated active volunteers.
Madam Kala, who has been working as a relief teacher the last eight years, spends about one day a week as an SG Ambassador and also helps out at grassroots activities on Saturdays.
“For most of us, meals are easily available. But the elderly man had dietary restrictions and he had no one to take care of him,” she said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who attended the appreciation reception on Sunday, lauded Madam Kala's "small act of kindness that went a long way to brighten up someone's life".
He added that the Silver Generation Office (SGO) has evolved beyond its initial mission of helping to support Pioneer Generation seniors.
It was formerly known as the Pioneer Generation Office, and was set up in 2014 to inform the Pioneers about the Pioneer Generation package.
"Now that you have accomplished your mission for the Pioneer Generation, we have decided to give you another mission (which is to explain the Merdeka Generation package)," he told the 2,800-strong gathering comprising volunteers, community partners and grassroots advisers and leaders.
Around 500,000 Singaporeans are eligible for the Merdeka Generation Package.
The organisation was renamed the SGO just last year, and also merged with the Agency for Integrated Care, under the Ministry of Health.
PM Lee said this was "so that we formally recognised your role supporting our seniors, whether on healthcare, social assistance or community support".
For example, SG Ambassadors do house visits to tell seniors about government policies that will benefit them, such as MediShield Life, Medisave and CareShield Life; and support schemes like Goods and Services Tax (GST) vouchers and the Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) programme for Housing Board flats.
They also help connect seniors with agencies and community partners to deal with their other needs.
"The SG Ambassador is now an additional and important channel of engagement for the Government," he said, noting that their target group is more defined than other grassroots channels.
"You understand better what the seniors need, and have learnt how to explain things simply and clearly, in terms they can relate to."
Their work goes beyond merely telling seniors about government policies, he added.
"You are systematically meeting them, getting to know them, building relations, and winning their trust.
"It takes a while to get to know older people because they are naturally cautious when strangers approach them," said PM Lee.
Sometimes, the volunteers may have an "uphill task" if the senior just missed out on the Pioneer or Merdeka Generation Package, or other support schemes, he added.
"But in the end, you win many over with your kindness of heart and your sincerity - the human touch."
The SG Ambassadors also use other channels besides home visits.
These include conducting activities at the workplace and at community spaces, like hawker centres, to reach out to members of the Merdeka Generation, who are younger and "generally better educated than the Pioneers", said PM Lee.
He added that SGO is also working with other government agencies to provide more information online, through an app, and also to create an e-version of the Merdeka Generation card that can be carried on mobile phones.
"As a result of these new initiatives, we have been able to reach 140,000 Merdeka Generation seniors within a short span of five months," said PM Lee.
Since the Merdeka Generation outreach started, SGO's volunteer pool has also increased by 25 per cent.
Said PM Lee: "Many of you, from young to old, joined in because of a strong desire to give back to society.
"The SG Ambassadors' efforts have made us a more caring and cohesive society for all Singaporeans - a society where we feel an obligation to each other, and especially to our seniors, who have given their best years to Singapore."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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