By day, 26-year-old Ms Ng Run Qian works with people with special needs. By night, she is a befriender to seniors at risk of social isolation. While she first started out befriending seniors in the Clementi area, she now befriends nine seniors residing in Mountbatten with a group of eight fellow befrienders. The avid traveller has been volunteering with Lions Befrienders since her university days and enjoys cycling around the island in her foldable bike.
Some youngsters are apprehensive about volunteering with the elderly because they can’t speak the local dialects. Do you think the language gap is a strong barrier to becoming a befriender?
I would say whilst language is a barrier, it is also not insurmountable because some seniors are actually very keen to teach! They might laugh at your broken dialect but that helps break the ice. Some don’t mind, and they are still receptive despite this apparent deficiency. And it’s not just dialects. Being unable to speak in Malay is also another barrier. I would say it’s something that we must learn to manage.
Do you think your age has helped you in your interaction with the seniors?
I think they treat me as their granddaughter, so in turn I treat them like my grandparents. One of the seniors I befriend is now my “Godma”, she actually got upset when I called her Aunty instead of Godma! I learnt a lot from the Clementi befrienders at the beginning just from how they interact with the seniors. Some seniors don’t like to talk about themselves and would rather listen to you talk, while others like to share their stories, so how we interact with each senior varies.
Conversely, what are some of the challenges you face?
Some think you’ll never be able to understand them because they think I am young and feel that I do not have much life experience.
What keeps you befriending the seniors week after week?
I think the commitment and the support from my fellow befrienders is very important. For example I just found out about a senior who passed away, and it can be really tough. I appreciate that the older befrienders in the group treat me as their peer instead of a ‘xiao mei’ (small girl). And coming to see the seniors is relaxing for me. When I feel stressed, I’ll go visit the seniors. There was once I fell asleep in a senior’s home because I was just really tired, and when I woke up, I found her quietly looking at me and her gentleness reminded me of my grandmother whom I grew up with. With the stresses of daily life, the support of your befriending group and the happiness you see in the seniors when they see you is what keeps you going.