Seniors who help seniors

Seniors who help seniors
Ms Amy Chua,(in black) 74, founder of AME College, with her students in outfits made from recycled materials.

SINGAPORE - They have names like Silver Horizon, Silver Spring, Reverse and Renewzz. Instead of condominiums or spas, however, these are initiatives on how to age well and live actively, set up by senior citizens for senior citizens.

At least five such initiatives have sprung up in the past seven years. They aim to help the silver generation live more fulfilled lives, from attending courses and joining tailored travel programmes to finding jobs.

Some businesses are registered with The Social Enterprise Association, an umbrella organisation. Others are cooperatives owned jointly by members who share the profits.

They are often started by seniors who want to help others like themselves, who feel lost after retirement or cannot find a job because of their age.

Retiree Helen Lim set up a travel co-op called Silver Horizon Travel in February last year with a group of 18 retirees. It organises programmes for those aged 40 and above.

Ms Lim, 66, the group's chairman, says: "Many of us travel overseas for holidays and we felt we needed an itinerary that was more age-friendly - that is less packed and with more toilet breaks."

So far, the cooperative, which has almost 200 members, has taken groups of 20 to 30 on seven tours to countries such as Switzerland and Japan.

It hopes to provide a platform for seniors to bond and create new friendships and interests, "which is important as we age", says Ms Lim. As part of its social mission, it also conducts charity tours for seniors who have not had the chance to travel. It took a group of elderly who live in one-room rental flats to Malacca in May.

Since 2009, Ms Lim, who has worked as a human resource professional for almost 40 years, has also been running a recruitment agency, Silver Spring, for seniors, registered with the Social Enterprise Association. The mother of one owns the Chatters cafe at Ren Ci Hospital, which employs only people aged 50 and above.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan from the National University of Singapore says the by-seniors-for-seniors trend is "to be expected with a more educated older population, who are less likely to move into a passive third age".

She says: "Older Singaporeans who are more endowed with, for instance, education, work and social experience, are in much better positions to lead initiatives that promote active ageing and self-help efforts."

Ms Amy Chua, 74, started AME (Age Management & Enrichment) College in 2007 to conduct courses for those aged 45 and above who may be feeling as lost as she did after retirement. She had retired in 2003, after working for 30 years as a television scriptwriter and librarian.

"I didn't want to retire, but I had to because I had reached retirement age."

The mother of three and grandmother of seven, who lives with her retired lecturer husband, 73, in a four-room HDB flat, felt she had lost her purpose in life.

"There was nothing to look forward to."

She hopes that by attending the courses she runs on things like personal image and public speaking as well as fashion shows using recycled materials at her college, seniors can build up their confidence so that they can return to work or remain active in society, and not just "stay at home and do nothing".

She has had more than 500 students since the school started.

The going is not always easy for these retirees-turned-social entrepreneurs. The main challenge for them is to strike a balance between making money and doing good, says Silver Horizon and Silver Spring's Ms Lim.

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