SilverGood - bringing online cheer to the elderly
It’s a sunny Tuesday morning. Diana Sim is ready for action, with her hands on her hips and her feet apart, watching a live dance exercise video on her computer.
“My favourite is exercise. I like dancing…only K-Pop,” reveals Diana with a smile, as she follows the steps being shown by a volunteer over Facebook live.
Diana is a 67-year-old retired school administrative executive. Explaining why she’s eager to keep active, she shares, “I am in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and thus I have some difficulties moving around. For Parkinson’s patients, we need to exercise.”
PAUSE: LIFE ON HOLD DURING COVID-19
When COVID-19 struck, many seniors in Singapore like Diana, found themselves shut off from the friends and routines they relied on to keep physically and mentally sharp.
Being more vulnerable to the virus, all seniors have been advised against leaving their homes during local lock down measures, as part of Singapore’s “circuit breaker” measures to slow the spread.
“I keep in contact with my A-level classmates over WhatsApp on a daily basis. We would meet every Friday for dinner to catch up about each other's lives and spend time together. We would have so much fun. Since the circuit breaker measures started, I can no longer go out,” shares Diana.
While these measures are in place to protect them, it has inevitably impacted the quality of their lives, at a stage where exercise, interaction, community, and routine are important in keeping them happy as well as physically and mentally engaged.
PLAY: VOLUNTEERS COME TOGETHER TO CREATE GOOD
Even before the circuit breaker measures started, an initiative was underway to address the concerns the elderly were facing - an online community project called SilverGood.
“The initial idea really was just a very simple idea: have some people come online and do something interesting on Facebook to bring some cheer to seniors,” shares founder Moses Sia, a 53-year-old education-artist, who refers to himself as “part of the greying population”.
Launched as a public Facebook group in late March, SilverGood’s aim was to create live enrichment activities, so that the elderly could participate in them, while creating a space for conversations and communal support.
All the activities are led by volunteers who host programmes such as exercise, music, singing, as well as arts and crafts, amongst others.
Moses says, “Music, craft, exercise, cooking, and of course stories as well... these are just some forms of creative arts which I think is very helpful and important as we go through a period of distress, of adjustment.”
Alvin Wah, a volunteer who conducts exercise sessions, says, “We work with seniors who are frail, seniors who are socially isolated and seniors who have dementia. We do mainly exercise classes but I think the broad concept of what we believe in is ... empowering seniors, empowering their ageing journey.”
After her class, Diana says, “The videos are great, so everyone can learn something new from there. I would recommend to my sister the exercise and cooking videos because I think she likes those things. I would also recommend it to my classmates. Even though I’ve left school more than 50 years ago, I am still in contact with them.”
These sessions aren’t just watched by the seniors. Some, like Francis Yeo, have even hosted their own sessions.
“I am happy that people want to hear me play harmonica. Although I know I am not that good at it, you know. I spotted a lot of mistakes,” beams Francis, an 84-year-old retired teacher.
“He was happy, had a good laugh watching himself,” adds his daughter Anne.
“Very very happy. You just tell them that I cannot play any better,” jokes Francis.
Moses points out, “Many of them are doing Facebook Live for the first time, but they have such wonderful things to share and I feel that that’s really the spirit.
“It’s not really about how professional or good, or things like that. It’s really the sincerity, the authenticity, the spontaneity to want to share! That has been marvellous.”
FAST FORWARD: TO AN INCLUSIVE AND SUPPORTIVE FUTURE
Within a month and a half since its inception in late March 2020, SilverGood has grown to over 1,000 members, with more volunteers signing up to host sessions.
This initiative for the elderly has even led to support for other groups. “Some friends of mine who are working in the preschool sector, they saw SilverGood and they liked it and now they are doing it for preschoolers. That is quite fun,” beams Moses.
He also notes that on the internet, there are no borders to spreading cheer. “When I first started it, of course my target audience was really the seniors in Singapore. Now that it is on Facebook, actually it could be anyone in the world. They could either start their own platform or they could just be part of this platform and bring cheer to anybody.”
As for future plans, Moses shares, “As long as there is a need and there’s a response from the community...we are behind it. And I hope that continues to make a difference. I feel whatever I am doing is meaningful, makes a difference and is…close to my heart.”
Diana, for her part, is all set for the next session. “I am grateful to the people [in the SilverGood videos] teaching us folks who can only stay home, and have nothing to do,” she says, “My favourites are the exercise videos. The ones by Alvin are not bad, because he speaks in both English and Mandarin and it is also suitable for our age. I really quite like his videos.”
This story was created using interviews conducted through online phone and video calls, as well as footage and photos taken by people involved in the project.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
How else can we support the elderly during COVID-19 safety measures?