At 87, she's the oldest volunteer at hospital

HELPING HAND: Mrs Nellie Row has been a volunteer at Tan Tock Seng Hospital for about 40 years.
PHOTO: At 87, she's the oldest volunteer at hospital

SINGAPORE - At 87, Mrs Nellie Row is the oldest volunteer in the Diversional Therapy Unit (DTU) at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

She is also one of the longest serving volunteers there, spending almost half her life trying to give back to the community.

"It's with the intention to help. Since I'm healthy, I want to give back to the community," said the volunteer of almost 40 years.

Mrs Row first joined DTU in her late 30s, after resigning from her post as the principal of the Singapore School for the Blind.

She would visit and befriend tuberculosis patients in the wards by engaging them with simple handicraft to keep them occupied.

When British women returned to their country, Mrs Row stepped up to the challenge of leading the volunteer group.

The group's direction has since changed over the years from ward visits to fund-raising through selling handicraft. Now, there are close to 30 volunteers in the group. The youngest member is in her 60s while Mrs Row is the oldest.

Together, they knit, sew and crochet and put their works up for sale at TTSH's quarterly charity bazaars.

The DTU bazaars raise about $10,000 every year, which helps needy patients through the TTSH Community Charity Fund.

While the 87-year-old concedes that her vision is slowly deteriorating and her movements are a little slower than before, the thought of retiring from DTU has never crossed her mind.

Burning passion

Her husband, Mr David Row, said: "She's last of her kind."

He was referring to his wife being the last among her batch of volunteers still in DTU, as well as her burning passion to do good. Looking at his wife fondly, Mr Row said: "She transferred the blood of volunteering to me. I never used to be interested, but one day, it just happened."

When he saw the amount of time and effort his wife put into her volunteer work, Mr Row became a hospice volunteer close to three decades ago.

"I was just telling her that I have been volunteering for 28 years and counting, but when she found out she was receiving the award, I realised she beat me," he joked.

This article was first published on October 28, 2014.
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