Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Senior Citizen cum Volunteer Appreciation at All Saints Home on 12 September 09

This is the first Senior citizen cum volunteer appreciation organized by All Saints Home that I’ve attended and to me, it was amazingly impressive!

We arrived earlier than usual, at around 12.30 pm. The home was decorated so nicely that once you just entered the familiar greyish gate, you could tell there was going to be a small carnival brightening up the place. That simply made us so excited even before the event began.

We gathered in our volunteer room and prepared many lovely and colourful gift packages with ovaltine, biscuits, etc for our beloved old folks on this special occasion. Surprisingly, we found out that these stuffs actually came from some warm-hearted individuals who really care about the welfare of our uncles and aunties.

At 1 o’clock, the hall was already adorned with a lot of bright-colour flowers and balloons. We saw many old forks wearing little red and yellow scarves already sat nicely in rows arranged by the home nurses. Many of them dressed up prettily and handsomely, they all looked very happy with smiley faces. Even their wheelchairs were also decorated eye-catchingly with colour paper and ornaments. Every time we welcomed a pretty auntie/handsome uncle into the hall, our nurses and volunteers would blow their whistles so loud that I just wanted to cover my ears with my palms but instead I decided to clap to join the FUN! Our old folks looked like some famous and attractive artists whose appearances were extremely important in all the festive events. And guess what? They will be performing to us many items later. I still remember last year when I performed a Chinese dance item during the Moon-cake festival to the elderly, this time, I no longer felt nervous as I would be the audience watching our old folks’ performance. The experience was really new and different.

Speech by Board of Director

The performances were really enjoyable and worth-watching. Either items performed by the old-folks themselves or a combination between the old folks and the nurses, either they danced or sang, all were so fun and lovely that made us, volunteers, smile, laugh, scream and even shake our bodies along with the cheerful music. The festive atmosphere was everywhere that it made every single person who was sitting in the hall feel involved and that they have a part to play! Despite the fact that our old folks are not very mobile, when they were on stage, they looked so confident and professional, no trembling, absolutely natural, it was like they had been practicing their items for the past few weeks. With the help of the nurses and ASH staffs, the elderly really put in a lot of efforts in perfecting their own performances and making the whole event a success. There was not just English and Chinese music, we did hear Indian dance music, the first time in ASH I believed. The “Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin” song, the L.I.M.B.O ROCK dance, the New York, New York dance in which the auntie looked like “a runaway bride” and many performances were really memorable to all those who attended.

Volunteer appreciation for schools, organizations and our regular volunteers who have contributed to ASH!!!

And then we had prize presentations for our very own old folks^^

After the main event ended, we had a mini food and game carnival for our old folks, this reminded me of the ESN carnival last week which was really interesting and enjoying! This time, besides choosing their own free food provided by different stalls, each old folk was given special $5 coupon to buy food from Kopitiam and/or play games. As many other old folks, my auntie really enjoyed her food, she kept saying “Good! Good!” while eating half-boiled egg and drinking coffee. Though the food hall was a bit small and squeezy causing trouble for us to move the wheelchairs, everyone was really tolerant and nobody complained from the beginning till the end of the makan session.

Our lovely volunteer group photo!

7 ESN babies wearing the “add life to years” T-shirt designed by Wei Zhong, haha, what a FUNNY coincidence!!! =))

I had a nice talk with Anitha after the whole event; it was pretty surprising that she needed to rush somewhere to teach the children Bible right after our ASH event. She said that God gave her time and it was her turn to give time to the elderly and spread the love for God. We both agree that volunteering really helps us to relieve our stress and makes us feel good. The old folks are more or less like the kids who always want to be cared and loved. Every time we feed them food, they always ask us to enjoy the food as well. They like to play fishing games and ball games; they enjoy and sing along the songs that we sing no matter how terrible our voices can be. And yes, absolutely, being an elderly is sometimes having a second childhood, the lovely and memorable time that we all wanted to come back to.

Time is flying so fast, it has been more than one year since the first day I came to All Saints Home. I still remember one year ago, on the 5th July 2008 when I just stepped in this place, everything was so new to me, the home, the old folks, the other volunteers as that was the first time in my life I had been to a nursing home. Now, things have not changed, just that my feeling is different, if you think language barrier is a big issue then believe me, just a smile on your face may brighten up someone else’s day. Things have become so familiar that I am sure that I can remember almost every single face I’ve met in ASH, not just the old folks, the volunteers but also ASH staffs.

To all not-so-new (old) ASH volunteers: keep up the spirit as we will have many more coming years to volunteer our services and better our elderly’ lives.

To all new ASH volunteers: welcome to ASH, you would love this place and don’t worry, you will become old (I mean experienced) volunteers one day!

Really enjoyed the nice dinner!!! HAHA, we don’t call this a group of volunteers but rather a FAMILY! (:


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Pandemonium at the ESN Carnival (2009)

It had nearly demanded a supreme effort for me to complete this blog entry and recount the chain of events that took place at the ESN Carnival 2009. This hardly came as a surprise largely due to a grueling week at work and an equally intensive volunteering session at the ESN Carnival, which took place on yesterday afternoon. For the benefit of new readers to this blog, the ESN (Elderly Sector Network) Carnival is an event, which brings together all the volunteering organizations under the umbrella of ESN to set up games and food stalls for the carnival. The residents from the nursing homes or homes for the elderly from these organizations, patronize these stalls and spend credits (in the form of ice cream sticks) sponsored by donors. Each credit is worth a dollar, and all the proceeds from each individual stalls will go directly to their respective organizations as funds for volunteering work. Held annually at Yishun Junior College, this event has come to its 3rd consecutive year of promoting volunteering at homes for the elderly and the disabled, and raising funds for each participating volunteering organizations.

In the previous years, I had offered my service as an assistant to wheel the residents from ASH to the stalls at the carnival, and aid them with the games and food. This year, I had decided to try out something different instead and tread the path less taken (so to speak). It was probably out of pure curiosity or even folly, that I decided to volunteer for our home's game stalls at the carnival. But in a logical sense, this decision should have been sound. Considering the fact that I have never run a game stall at a carnival before, the novelty of this idea simply proves to be irresistible. But alas, it was not meant to be a bed of roses, as I was soon to discover.

Volunteering for the game stalls would mean that you are expected to arrive at the venue of the carnival very much earlier than the rest of the volunteers to handle the logistics, and of course, to set up the stalls. If Benny had not selflessly offered to transport the prizes for the game with his car to the carnival, Carolyn and I would have been doomed by the burden from the logistics (there were 6 cartons of instant noodles, 3 crates of canned desserts, and countless bags of 3-in-1 instant cereal beverages). After unloading the cargo to our stall, we spent close to an hour to decorate the stalls for ASH and set up the props for the games. When these were finally completed, I could feel that my energy was nearly drained for the day. Hence, when the residents from the homes started to stream into the carnival, I had to summon the remnants of my energy to run the game stall in the most enthusiastic manner possible. Fortunately, I was amply assisted by Christin and her friend, Hui Fang to run the game stall. In fact, we had managed to register the first spending at the carnival when this elderly from Kreta Ayer Community Center approached our game stall.

Setting up and decorating the stalls at the carnival

ASH game stall 1: Fishing Game

ASH game stall 2: Bean It

The concept of the game at our stall was a simple one and it was aptly named as 'Bean It'. There were 3 rectangular pieces of cardboards (labeled 1, 2 and 3 points) plastered at different distances on the floor from a line, which serves as a marker for the player of this game. The player is required to stand behind that line and chuck bean bags (hence, the name of the game: Bean It) onto the rectangular cardboards to score enough points to win themselves a prize. Needless to say, the cardboard labeled '3 points' was the farthest from the line, and conversely, '1 point' was the nearest. 1 to 3 points will win you a towel (sponsored by Gerina), while 4 to 6 points will get you a 3-in-1 cereal beverage, and finally, 7 points will bag you an instant noodle.

ASH residents, nurses and volunteers

ASH volunteers preparing the wheelchairs for the residents

No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. There was a Wii game stall at the carnival!

Response at our stall was lukewarm at first, and I secretly wondered how long it would take to fill the plastic container allocated to our stall with the ice cream stick credits. I was soon to realize that this question was uncalled for when business at our stall became brisk barely 15 minutes into the opening of the carnival. Less than an hour later, pandemonium broke loose at our stall. A long snaking queue had formed itself in front of the stall and it had gotten increasingly longer with every passing minute. In utmost exasperation, I found myself yelling my throat hoarse to explain the rules of the game to each elderly who came to our stall over the loud din of music that was broadcasted at the carnival. At the same time, I had to collect the ice cream sticks, marshal the snaking queue, hand the elderly the bean bags and tally the score for the game. Feeling the end of my limits fast approaching, I suppressed a scream and wished that I had 4 pairs of arms to juggle the tasks at hand. Slowly, I began to understand why the helpers at wildly popular hawker stalls could get really snappy with their customers.

ASH game stall 1: Fishing game

Moments before pandemonium broke loose


But all these hassles were worth it. For the regular volunteers at ASH, I believe you have come to understand that the residents at the home do not regularly get the opportunity to go outside of the home to attend outdoor activities. This type of event has come be a rare form of luxury for the residents at ASH. As most residents at the home are either bedridden or wheelchair bound, it requires a significant number of nursing staffs to accompany the residents, and provide them with any necessary assistance. Furthermore, transporting the residents from the home to the venue of the event is no easy feat either, as it calls for volunteers and nursing staffs to cautiously carry each individual resident onboard the chartered buses. I have forgotten the number of times I felt utterly dejected when I saw residents at ASH, such as auntie Puay Lin succumbed to morbid pessimism due to inactivity from the confinement to her bed. Events such as the ESN Carnival provide them with the opportunity to venture outside the home and preoccupy their minds with activities. Thus, despite the strenuous amount of planning and coordination, the volunteers at ASH will always strive to ensure that the maximum possible number of residents from the home could attend events such as the ESN Carnival.

Meanwhile, the situation at our stall had worsen as the day wore on. Elderly and the volunteers assigned to provide them with assistance alike, flocked to our stall and capitalized on how easy it was to win prizes from our stalls by playing the game repeatedly. I remarked dryly to 1 of the volunteers who came to win prizes for herself that our stall was getting cleaned out by looters like her, to which she just dismissed with a string of uncomfortable laughters. As the prizes at our stall dwindled to a miserable stack, I guess I must have lost it somehow, as I found myself yelling to the queue in front of our stall that our prizes were fast depleting, and they should really not waste their time queuing up in anticipation of winning any more prizes. I have got to admit, it wasn't 1 of the most glorious moments in my life, but I was glad I did that as the queue forlornly dispersed itself when they saw for themselves that the prizes had indeed been wiped clean. Smiling wearily at Christine and Hui Fang, I brought to their view our plastic container, which was now threatening to overspill with ice cream sticks. Bean It had been an overwhelming success!

Karaoke Singing competition for the elderly

Additionally, our home has also won the T-shirt design competition held by the organizers of the carnival (the ESN committee). Although I knew of the outcome for this competition a couple of weeks ago, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised to see the T-shirt I had designed up close for the very first time. It almost felt like I had won Project Runway, except that there was no Heidi Klum to hand me a trophy or garland of course (a hug from her will do actually)! At the risk of coming across as a narcissist, I must confess that the mere thought of knowing that my design will eventually be worn by the 140 shoppers who had purchased the T-shirts, pleases me to no end. Coming back to reality, I know that I'm neither Gianni Versace nor Choco Chanel. Toying with the idea of making it big in the fashion industry has never been within a mile of the orbit of my thoughts. Instead, I am already elated that I could put my passion for drawing to good use. For that, I have to express profuse thanks to ESN for making that happen.

The T-Shirt design for ESN Carnival 2009

As the carnival drew to a close at 415 pm, I finally sank onto the nearest chair and stared blankly into the crowd that was beginning to make their way out of the carnival grounds. The moment reminded me of the movie 'Black Hawk Down'. There was 1 scene in that movie that showed the aftermath of the US rangers' retreat from Mogadishu. Utterly shattered by exhaustion when they arrived at friendly territories, the rangers slumped to the ground and stared blankly into the medics gathering around them to examine their wounds. I may come across as over exaggerating for this instance, but the intensity of the day's event had undoubtedly made me cave in to fatigue.

When I came to my senses, I realized that the members from ESN had already embarked on the task of cleaning up the venue with astounding vigor. In my previous blog entries, I had often waxed lyrical of their admirable passion for volunteering and their exemplary organizational skills displayed in planning events like this, but they truly do not cease to amaze me every time. This year's ESN Carnival saw the most number of residents attending the event from the various volunteering organizations, and to cope with the throng of masses at the carnival grounds, ESN had thoughtfully arranged for the air-conditioning units at the venue to be switched on. Furthermore, they had even managed to secure all the resources needed for the performances and every stall to ensure that the entire carnival was run in a clockwork fashion. Indeed, I did not even sense a single glitch that threaten so much as to upset the flow of events at the carnival throughout the entire day. More importantly, I have to thank all the members from ESN for the exceedingly superb job of staging this carnival, without this, the residents from our home would not be able to bring this wonderful piece of memory back to ASH with them.

In addition, I would like to express thanks on behalf of ASH to Christin, Clara, Gek Huay and Hui Fang for volunteering to help out at the ASH game stalls. I guess we could never thank Christin's mum enough for supplying ASH food stall with her heavenly pineapple rice for 2 years in a row for free. Every year, her pineapple rice will build up a legion of fans, and I'm beginning to suspect that Xing is yearning to be the chieftain of the pineapple rice's loyal followers. He has been describing the lip smacking good comfort food in salivate inducing detail ever since the carnival on Saturday!

The famed 'ASH pineapple rice' in the background

To all the ASH volunteers:
I would like to thank all of you for helping out in this carnival by safely bringing the residents from the home to this event, and partake a share of the residents' unforgettable time at the various stalls. I would also like to echo the thoughts of all the committee members from ASH and ESN alike: please do continue to participate actively in events like these as they do mean a world to all the residents at ASH. For the more adventurous (and probably younger) volunteers, you could always try to 'tread the path less taken' (à la moi) and volunteer to help out at our stalls for the coming carnival. I could assure you that it will be an experience to remember!

ASH volunteers in a sea of red, who made everything happen for the residents attending the carnival (but could you spot the trio missing from this picture?)