“What activities will they enjoy?” “Will there be a language barrier?” “Will they be comfortable with activities conducted through a digital platform?” These were the thoughts racing through the minds of Year-2 undergraduates Miko Teo, Geraldine Ang, Felica Lim, and Rachel Chay when they took on a two-week long service-learning project to engage seniors in December last year.
All four students specialising in Human Resource Consulting at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore's (NTU Singapore) Nanyang Business School, chose to engage seniors between 50 and 70 years old through The Good Life Family Club, a social enterprise of Man Fut Tong Welfare Society (MFTWS). This is a non-profit and non-governmental organisation that provides community services through donations, creating safe community spaces for senior citizens to interact with one another and also equips them with essential skills to embrace ageing.
The students’ project was part of an ongoing collaboration between MFTWS and the HRC Club (HRCC). The objectives of the collaboration are for HRCC members to foster a philanthropic sense for different social groups, as well as practise good community virtues such as volunteering.
Aligned with the club’s vision of giving back to the community, this project allowed HRCC members to reach out to seniors during the pandemic, and enabled different generations (the students, volunteers, and seniors) to interact and exchange perspectives.
“Working closely with the staff and other NBS student volunteers, we wanted to reach out to our seniors to bring them cheer and keep their minds active. Our two-week -long project took place over 10 sessions, with each lasting for one hour to one and a half hours depending on the activity conducted on the day itself,” explained Felicia.
So Many Games, Not Enough Time
At that time, COVID-19 restrictions had made physical interaction unfeasible. Working around the constraints, the team cracked their brains to design virtual activities that would also be fun and meaningful for the seniors.
Said Rachel: “It was challenging to brainstorm suitable activities we had to consider the difficulty level of the activity, the demographics of our seniors, their familiarity with digital platforms, and their language proficiency. We collaborated closely with staff from MFTWS to gather further information regarding their backgrounds and preferences, ultimately deciding to proceed with games that could be played via WhatsApp.
Over the two weeks, incorporating elements of simple mathematics, riddles, and picture identification, the team planned different activities such as Guess the Place; Scavenger Hunt; Simple Math; Old Times Favourite Quiz; Singapore Attraction Hunt Riddle, and Sudoku. For activities such as Old Times Favourite Quiz, Singapore Attraction Hunt Riddle, and Guess the Place, the students incorporated places that had already been demolished in Singapore, such as the old National Theatre, as they wanted the seniors to reminisce about their past.
“I was surprised the seniors preferred the Simple Math activity as I thought that the questions were difficult for them. However, they were able to answer all the questions, and we even included prizes as incentive for participation,” said Felicia.
Snapshot of prizes from the students to encourage participation from the seniors
“For games involving picture identification, we based them on local food and landmarks and were actually surprised that our seniors have such good memories. We added translations of the questions and answers to engage the non-English speaking seniors and included audio recordings of these in different languages,” said Geraldine.
“It took time to prepare all the resources required and with our hands full coordinating the games with staff and volunteers at MFTWS throughout the project but our hearts were full at the end of the day seeing our seniors’ faces light up during the activities,” Rachel added.
Creating a Ripple Effect for Conversations
Once the games got going, memories started to pour in, and conversation began to flow freely.
“We were touched to see some of the seniors post pictures to our chat groups of their past visits to various landmarks and locations following the games. They initiated conversations among themselves in the group chat as a result. It was heartwarming to see that ripple effect from our activities. One of them even recounted in vivid detail his experience working as a camp instructor in Pulau Ubin when he was younger. We also didn’t expect that they would be so forthcoming with us,” they shared.
Miko was caught off guard by the creativity of the seniors: “One of the riddles we asked them to solve was “I have a head and a tail, but no arms and legs”. The intended answer was “coin”, but the seniors gave other reasonable answers like “fish” and “snake”. It was fun to see them debate the answers and it forced us to think on our feet,” she recalled.
“We were in for more surprises when some of our seniors responded with voice recordings in their dialects. That sent us scuttling to our parents and grandparents for help with the translations,” said Miko.
From left to right: Friends and teammates Rachel, Geraldine, Felicia, and Miko meeting to discuss the games and other project details
Through the sessions, the team learnt invaluable lessons in project management, communicating with different stakeholders, and being adaptable.
For Miko, her main takeaway from the project was learning to communicate better with seniors. “Trying to bridge the generation gap means understanding that some seniors may have different perspectives on the answers to our games, so we need to come up with creative replies” she said.
“As I observed the way the volunteers treat the seniors with dignity and respect, I learnt to be more adaptable, considerate, and patient. We need to remember that everything we say and how we say it, matters,” said Geraldine.
“Working with our seniors reminded me of my grandparents and their interests, and it made me realise that I should spend more quality time with the seniors in my life,” Rachel concluded.