Meeting his long-lost cousin through volunteer work

When Mr Tan Thiam Heong decided to be a befriender, he had never imagined his befriendee would be his long-lost cousin for more than 10 years.

63-year-old Mr Tan is a volunteer from the Community Befriending Programme (CBP) under Fei Yue Family Service Centre, an initiative administered by Council for Third Age (C3A). His main role involves making regular visitations to spend time and interact with his two befriendees. Other than relieving their loneliness, Mr Tan also checks if his befriendees have taken their medication, and if they need assistance with day-to-day matters.

When Mr Tan started to visit 65-year-old Mr Lim, Mr Tan did not recognise his cousin immediately as Mr Lim was wearing a pair of sunglasses due to poor eyesight and had problems moving and getting around after a stroke.

“At that point in time, he (Mr Lim) hadn’t hired a domestic helper and no one was taking care of him. He also got discharged from the hospital not long ago, which resulted him to be moody and I couldn’t communicate well with him at the start,” Mr Tan explained.

Despite the refusal to communicate with him, Mr Tan did not give up. He believed that Mr Lim needed help and decided to visit him again a week after.

“I wanted to find out more about him, so I asked him where he was working and staying in the past. And it came to my surprise that he had a similar past to mine, we both stayed at the same kampung in Mandai! Out of curiosity, I asked further and I realised his father is my uncle!” Mr Tan laughed, recalling how surprised he felt about the joyful reunion.

Mr Tan shared that he had spent most of his childhood playing with his cousin, from climbing trees, catching fishes to playing marbles. After they grew up, their parents still contacted each other but they rarely met up, unless there were special occasions.

“We gradually lost touch. As our parents passed on, we haven’t met each other for more than ten years,” Mr Tan added. Seeing how his cousin needs help, Mr Tan feels that it’s incumbent on him to take care of Mr Lim.

Usually, Mr Tan has to work in shifts as a security officer, and is frequently being tasked to work in different areas of Singapore. However, whenever he has a rest day, he will make time to visit his cousin to see if he is alright. Sometimes, the domestic helper will also bring Mr Lim, who is a wheelchair user, to the nearest coffee shop to eat and chat.

“Helping others when I still have the ability”

Mr Tan explained that one of his friends is a volunteer from Community Befriending Programme. Whenever they meet up, his friend will share about the experiences as a volunteer, which sparked his curiosity.

“I wasn’t employed then, and Fei Yue Family Service Centre was also coincidentally looking for volunteers, so I went to sign up,” the strong and healthy Mr Tan said. “Since I still have the ability, I should help the others. Our neighbourhood also requires people to take up such (volunteering) roles for seniors to age in place in the community,” he added.

Mr Tan has only started volunteering from February, and he believes there’s still a lot of things to learn from. In future, he plans to sign up for volunteering-related courses when he has the time, hoping to gain more knowledge to help other seniors.

A representative from Fei Yue Family Service Centre had shared that the Community Befriending Programme at Choa Chu Kang currently has 43 volunteers, ranging from 40 to 80 plus years old. Amidst the challenges of an ageing population, they have been constantly looking out for more befrienders, in hopes that there will be more people coming forth to help the elderly.

“Life isn’t hard to get by since he started visiting”

Mr Tan’s cousin, Mr Lim, shared that these visitations by the Community Befriending Programme had enabled him to feel at ease. It also helped that the volunteer happened to be his cousin, which changed his life.

“As I do not have any strength on both my left arm and leg, I have to rely a lot on my domestic helper after my wife and son leaves home for their work. Whenever I go out, I have to sit in a wheelchair. If I stay at home, I can only sit on the sofa in the living room to watch the TV all day long. After my eyesight started to worsen, I can’t even read the newspapers, which made my life really hard to get by,” Mr Lim continued.

Formerly a technical staff, Mr Lim could not work anymore after he suffered from a stroke in 2011. He was also admitted to the hospital a few times as he fell down quite often when he was at home alone. After given advice from a hospital social worker, Mr Lim’s family decided to hire a domestic helper to take care of him. Under the recommendation of Agency for Integrated Care, they were able to benefit from Community Befriending Programme.

“My cousin visits frequently now, and we often reminiscence about our childhood days, or talk about our relatives. The feeling of having one more friend is really good,” Mr Lim remarked.

Usually, Mr Lim will also call Mr Tan to chat with him, which helps to relieve his loneliness. “I hope I am able to use a motorised wheelchair in the future, so I don’t have to always rely on my domestic helper when I go out or visit the clinic nearby to see a doctor,” Mr Lim said.

**If you would like to be a befriender like Mr Tan Thiam Heong to help others, check out the various volunteering opportunities available here.

Source: Lianhe ZaoBao © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.