Sunday, May 19, 2024
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74-year-old Singaporean community champion thrives

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Every sunrise, Elizabeth Lim embarks on her ritual stroll through Singapore’s Telok Blangah, a community she’s called home for nearly two decades. Amidst the serene streets, she encounters familiar faces: neighbours on their morning promenades, alongside local volunteers and committee members. 

Their interactions are a symphony of diverse languages, echoing the vibrant tapestry of their shared neighbourhood.

It’s hardly surprising that people recognise her. Lim has been active in Telok Blangah Community Club (CC) since 2008 and has been a Silver Generation Ambassador (SGA) for over seven years. 

These volunteers come under the Silver Generation Office (SGO) at the Agency for Integrated Care. Together with another SGA, Lim makes regular house visits to elderly residents around her estate to offer help. 

This includes buying food for those who have difficulty walking or helping them resolve phone and WiFi issues. SGAs also share initiatives related to active ageing that the elderly may benefit from. 

Lim (right) with her neighbour, Jessie Chan, with whom she shares a special bond. PHOTO: CNA

“Some people may think elderly folk like me all just want to rest but many of us love to serve and help others too,” Lim said. “Age isn’t always a limitation, sometimes it’s the reason why we get to do what we do.”

In 2006, Lim moved to Telok Blangah. “People don’t usually believe me when I say this but before I moved here, I didn’t have many friends,” she said. “I spent most of my life just working and being there for my kids, I didn’t socialise or interact with the community in my old neighbourhood.”

She was 56 then and working in office administration. At that point, her daughters were in their thirties and Lim herself was no longer as busy at work. 

“I started to have more time but I didn’t want to just do nothing,” she added. “I wanted to learn a new skill or make new friends.”

Two years after moving to the estate, Lim came across an event at Telok Blangah community centre. “It changed my life,” she said. “Before that, I didn’t even know what a community centre did – I was just walking home and the place looked lively, so I went in.” 

Lim ended up befriending the CC’s regular volunteers and event attendees and, within a matter of months, became a volunteer herself. She organised New Year gatherings, trekking activities, and friendly sports competitions.

“Everyone was so welcoming in the centre,” Lim said. “It didn’t matter that I and other members were 50 or 60 years old, we just wanted to make our neighbourhood a better place for the residents.”

Through the CC, Lim found a “new kind of home and purpose”. 

It was a place for her to make new friends, and also gave her the opportunity to support neighbours facing financial or health challenges, both in and outside the CC.

When she found out about an elderly neighbour whose husband had lost his vision, she helped them book an appointment with an eye specialist at a nearby hospital. 

She also showed another neighbour how to get a cheaper post-paid phone plan, making it easier for him to stay in touch with his children and grandchildren.

Lim’s proactive nature, ability to interact with people of all ages, and remarkable memory has led her to become known as the neighbourhood’s “walking directory”.

“People just come up to me to ask me where to get this or how do I find that,” Lim said. “Surprisingly, I had an answer for all of that – so they called me a walking directory.”

One of the events Lim organised for the Community Club was a trek from Tanjong Pagar to Bukit Timah along the rail corridor. PHOTO: CNA SOURCE

GOING THE EXTRA MILE FOR HER NEIGHBOURS

Lim retired in 2017 and decided to dedicate more time to her CC work. That year, she also found out about being an SGA from a CC friend. 

“It was like the perfect opportunity for me,” Lim said. “I felt like I could be the caring eyes and ears of my neighbourhood – it was something I was already doing anyway.”

As an SGA, Lim spends Mondays, Fridays, and half of her Saturdays doing house visits, and checking in on neighbours, some of whom are younger than her. These are assigned to her by the SGO. 

“Being an elderly myself, it’s easy to understand what money or social problems my peers are facing,” Lim added.

Some of these can vary from minor issues like phone troubles and difficulty understanding online announcements to more serious situations like missed hospital appointments or an elderly neighbour getting lost due to dementia. 

Of course, not everyone is as receptive to the visits, Lim said. 

“People have shut the door on me, shouted at me, and accused me of selling products or scamming them,” she said. “But I don’t take it personally, I just don’t give up and try again.”

While some of her neighbours aren’t interested in what she has to share, they are happy to spend time having small talk with her. 

“There are those who don’t want to know more about digital skills or active ageing,” Lim said. “But the moment I ask if they may have time to chit chat about life or lighter topics over tea, they’d welcome me into their homes. 

“It made me realise how most of us just want good company. If there’s always an agenda to share, people get tired. Sometimes, all I do is just be there for my neighbours.”

One neighbour who shares a special bond with Lim is 81-year-old Jessie Chan, who lives in the same block as Lim. 

They first met in 2020 during the circuit breaker. Chan, who is single, faced difficulties going out to buy food due to her health issues. 

Living alone, she struggled during the circuit breaker as many announcements were made online, and she didn’t always keep up with the news.

“My SGA partner and I visited Jessie to share about the available support for people like her and she opened up to us about her struggles,” Lim said. 

Thanks to her approachable nature, Lim easily makes friends with her neighbours and earns their trust, even with personal issues. PHOTO: CNA

“We bought her lunch and dinner that day, but I kept thinking of her. Even though it wasn’t officially under SGA, I still checked on her often.” 

Since then, Chan and Lim have continued to nurture their friendship. 

When Chan felt anxious about going to the hospital for her knee replacement surgery, Lim stood by her side for all her appointments. And when Chan experienced gum pain and needed to visit the dentist for tooth extraction, it was Lim who helped her make the appointments and stayed with her throughout the visits.

There was a period when Chan didn’t reply to any of Lim’s calls or text messages — Lim discovered that Chan’s phone was broken. 

“I’m not her caregiver, but I still care for her and my neighbours who need help,” Lim said. “I always tell her: ‘You need help? Just call me.’”

Said Chan: “Elizabeth is the best – she took care of me when it seemed like no one else was there for me anymore.” 

“Age will never stop me from helping my neighbours,” Lim said. “As long as I have the energy to move, to share, to speak – I will keep going and be there for the people around me.”

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