Whampoa's way

Whampoa's way
Whampoa residents (from left) Madam Lam Ah Won, 79; Madam Oh Siew Lian, 76; Madam Tan Ah Moy, 80; Madam Tan Yeow Noi, 80; Madam Tan Kim Yoke, 86; and Madam Hui Ah Chiu, 87.

She has already finished a morning workout, sat through a health talk, played ball games and shared a simple lunch of century-egg porridge with friends.

But even as the last rays of the late afternoon sun stream into Madam Tan Kim Yoke's bright and cheery three-room flat, the 86-year-old is not done for the day.

The phone rings. It is a friend from a neighbouring block. "Sure, I would love to go karaoke," she says into her iPhone with a chuckle.

Its red plastic case, decorated with multicoloured hearts, matches her red-and-gold manicure.

"See you later." The widowed mother of eight has a large, loving family, but chooses to live alone in Whampoa, in the same neighbourhood she has called home for well over 50 years.

She raised her children - who are now in their 50s and 60s - in the flat which she still lives in.

"I have many memories here, my friends are here and there is so much to do," she says. "My children come to see me. There is no reason to move."

She does not know it, but older residents in Whampoa are part of an experiment to enable older people to age in their own flats and familiar neighbourhoods, with the help of a coordinated community-wide system of health and social support programmes and services.

Called the Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA), the $5 million initiative is spearheaded by the Tsao Foundation, a non-profit group that specialises in ageing issues.

The Tote Board has committed $4 million. The foundation is paying for the rest.

It will be launched officially on Saturday, nearly three years after the foundation first began working with seniors in the neighbourhood.

More than a third of Whampoa's 33,000 residents are over 50. Around 3,600 have crossed 65.

The foundation works closely with Whampoa grassroots groups and more than 20 government, healthcare and community agencies to better serve Whampoa's seniors. Its chairman, Dr Mary Ann Tsao, says that ComSA hopes to enable all seniors - rich or poor - to "live well".

For those like Madam Tan who are financially better off and in fine fettle, "living well" means keeping them active, engaged and happy.

For others who are frail, lonely or poor, it means connecting them to the right services at the right time, so that they do not have to leave home or land in institutionalised care.

"Singaporeans are living long, but we're not really living well," says Dr Tsao. "This is what we're hoping to change."

Energetic, independent and full of good cheer, Madam Tan is in many ways the perfect poster child for active ageing.

Every Sunday morning, she is the oldest resident to join song-and-dance sessions conducted by cardiologist Tan Yong Seng, 55, a local grassroots leader. (See box.)

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the garrulous great-grandmother of eight plays mahjong and other games with her kakis at the Whampoa Gardens Residents' Committee (RC) office, a stone's throw from her block.

Thursdays are special, with Madam Tan joining about 20 friends for "self-care" sessions.

They first got together last year for 24 sessions with trained volunteers from the Tsao Foundation who taught them how to deal with chronic diseases, manage stress and take better care of themselves.

Although men are welcome, the group is made up entirely of women. "Men are shy, lah," she says.

The formal sessions ended long ago, but the women meet every Thursday afternoon to chat, exercise and play ball games.

They also share a meal - usually something simple and healthy like porridge or soup - sing and swop stories.

One recent Thursday, the conversation centred on Whampoa, and how long some of them have been living there.

Madam Tan, who looks and acts far younger than her age, says she moved to the area as a young mother in the early 1950s.

Some of her friends who live alone like her - widows Tan Ah Moy, 80, Oh Siew Lian, 76, and Lam Ah Won, 79 - have called the area home since childhood.

"Just imagine," Madam Tan marvels. "We've lived here almost all our lives but did not meet when we were young."

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