CHCSA aims to equip and empower elderly volunteers through leadership camps that help them contribute back to the society.
Contributed By Melissa Chen
Thirty volunteers, including 14 senior citizens, took part in a second run of the Elderly Leadership Camp organized by City Harvest Community Services Association. Held at the Aloha Resorts chalets from Oct. 16 to 17, the camp aimed to encourage active aging among its elderly volunteers, where one lives out their silver years with meaning while contributing back to the society.
Irene Ho, a senior program manager at CHCSA, first found the inspiration for an elderly camp when she saw the success of youth camps conducted previously. She believed that if youths could be trained in leadership, so could the elderly. Ho also felt that far from classifying the elderly as frail, incompetent and limited in what they can do, one should look at the fact that they have wide knowledge and a vast amount of experience that many can learn from. When equipped and trained, the elderly will be able to lead others effectively.
Thus, the main objective of the camp was to develop leadership skills among the elderly volunteers and foster leadership teams as a way to serve others in the community. The 2-day-1-night camp put together programs that equipped the participants with soft skills enabling them to befriend others, to lead and become an effective care partner. They were trained in communication skills and also sat in a teaching session that helped them better understand their roles as senior volunteers, as well as the do’s and don’ts of volunteerism.
But organizing a camp for the elderly proved to be no easy task. Ho had to take into consideration factors such as their age, health conditions, and the suitability of the venue. Unlike youths, the elderly could not sleep on mats or mattresses on the floor; so they had to ensure there were enough beds for all the elderly to sleep in. The activities planned had to be “elderly-friendly”—sufficient safety precautionary measures had to be taken.
Garnering the participation of the elderly volunteers was another challenge Ho had to face. “Initially, the elderly volunteers were afraid that they were not competent enough to take on leadership roles to lead other elderly. However, after much encouragement, they managed to take the first step,” Ho shared.
The camp started with an icebreaker game in the morning where the participants were gathered into teams to create a name, a cheer and a banner to identify their respective teams. That morning, the participants were also briefed on the evening’s program, “Jing Da Xi Suan Wo Zai Hang,” meaning “I’m good at budgeting.” Each team was given a budget of S$25 to purchase ingredients and cook a three-course dinner for 10. Ho shared that apart from just culinary skills, this activity also tested their strategy planning skills. It also gave the teams an opportunity to display their teamwork and cohesion.
Pang Kiow, 75, said, “Working as a team, I learned about the importance of participation. We need to be active and take initiative to contribute, not just to receive orders and follow them.”
To help the participants better understand themselves, they had a session on the DISC Personality Assessment to determine their personality type. After doing the test and identifying their personality group, they went into their respective groups where facilitators taught them to identify their strengths and weaknesses. A talk on “Creating a Happy Mind” to aid the elderly to learn how they can change their thinking patterns and thoughts by replacing negative with positive ones ended the afternoon on the first day. Ho shared with the participants 10 simple ways to be happy and more positive, encouraging personal growth through self-awareness.
Ho said, “The volunteers enjoyed the camp and all the programs that were specially planned for them. Most of them also said that they had never attended a camp before in their life and it was a very good experience for them.”
Ong Gek Hui, 67, an odd job worker said, “This camp helped me understand the importance of teamwork. There is power when everyone in the team completed the task together.”
Susan Ng, 57, benefitted from the communication and befriending lessons. “I learned about the importance of being a good listener to people whom I befriend. Many times, we have the tendency to talk and try to get them to listen to us rather than being a good listener. Listening to them will allow the other party to build trust in me.”