This neighbourhood buddy system pairs elderly and vulnerable residents with volunteers to help them during the COVID-19 season.
The evolving COVID-19 situation in Singapore has brought about many disruptions to life. As the elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus, measures have been put in place to keep them safe since before the circuit breaker.
However, the closure of facilities that seniors frequent, like community clubs, has created some challenges for those without caregivers.
“There are many vulnerable and isolated seniors that live within our neighbourhood, and the COVID-19 crisis has brought about an overwhelming wave of new regulations and restrictions, especially for the elderly who are not as tech-savvy,” said Michelle Lau, 27, who co-founded social initiative #KampungKakis to help vulnerable residents.
“The uncertainty and fluidity of the crisis also make it more difficult for them to keep abreast of and navigate resources and measures in place, which can leave them feeling more isolated and confused.”
To provide support to such residents-in-need, #KampungKakis matches them with a volunteer “kaki” in their neighbourhood. This buddy system not only helps vulnerable residents meet their daily needs, but also limits their exposure to many different volunteers.
The initiative was first thought up by Mae Tan, 28, after she recovered from COVID-19. Being grateful for the frontline heroes who made her recovery possible, she wanted to find a way to pay it forward.
While warded in hospital, Mae had witnessed the pain elderly patients endured during their COVID-19 treatment, and resolved to keep such vulnerable individuals safe in their community.
After being discharged on Mar 31, Mae found support from her long-time friend Denise Tay, 26, and Michelle Lau, 27, who she met at a residents’ committee reusable mask distribution exercise. The three ladies then co-founded #KampungKakis and launched it on Apr 12.
Over two weeks, #KampungKakis managed to get over 300 volunteers across Singapore. Beyond running grocery errands for the elderly, these ‘buddies’ also guide low-income families through the COVID-19 resources available to them, and provide tech support or tutoring for students on home-based learning.
“Our vision is, by connecting neighbours, they can utilise their own strengths and community assets to help support those in need. This can help to lighten the weight on formal voluntary welfare organisations and to focus resources on those who need it most,” said Michelle, who works as a medical social worker in a hospice setting.
#KampungKakis may be born out of a time of crisis, but its founders hope it will last beyond the COVID-19 season. And as more people join their team and take charge of their own communities, the ultimate hope is that neighbours will build stronger bonds and long-lasting relationships.
Michelle said: “We hope that #KampungKakis reignites a spark of the kampung spirit and no one will feel like a stranger in their own neighbourhood. In our fast-paced society that is becoming more technologically-inclined, sometimes we may unknowingly forget those who may find it difficult and intimidating to adjust to the changes around us.
“We may not be able to put a solution to every problem, but it can mean a lot to be able to have someone who is willing to listen to your struggles and to lend help in any way they can, in a non-judgemental and compassionate way.”
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