She volunteers to feel alive

She volunteers to feel alive
PHOTO: RSVP Singapore

Watching energetic housewife K. Rangithamalar lead the exercise class at a Care Corner in Toa Payoh, one can be forgiven for thinking that she is much younger than the 20 senior citizens taking part.

The 60-year-old is among the growing silver brigade of volunteers helping out in the community.

RSVP Singapore, the organisation of senior volunteers launched by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in October 1998, says that it has 1,100 senior volunteers in its ranks and the number is climbing.

Its executive director Edmund Song, 61, says: "But we hope more will come forward. The reason why seniors don't volunteer is that they're not approached."

"First-time volunteers also do not know how to get involved. We are hoping we can provide opportunities for them through our National Senior Volunteer Month campaign."

Despite its name, the National Senior Volunteer Month campaign will last till the end of the year.

Mr Ngiam Tong Yuen, who chairs the campaign's committee, says: "Active volunteerism will help our seniors live healthier and mentally-stimulating lives after retirement, enabling them to continue contributing meaningfully to society's development.

With their talents, our seniors can make a difference at every level of society, from mentoring at-risk children to engaging the less privileged."

Madam Rangithamalar says it is a sense of paying it forward that prompted her to volunteer her time.

Four years ago, an accident left her paralysed and it was through support from strangers that she is walking again.

She says she was playing golf at Orchid Country Club when the golf buggy hit a bump.

"I fell out and the golf buggy fell and landed on my spine, breaking it... My screams of pain could even be heard by a friend who was playing two flights behind us," she recalls.

The orthopaedic surgeon had told her husband, retired air force colonel Frank Singam, that she had only a 10 per cent chance of ever walking again.

Says Madam Rangithamalar: "Frank was told not to expect too much and to be thankful I could move my bowels and urinate normally."

She was transferred to Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Community Hospital two months later.

Cheering her on

"It was there that I went through physiotherapy twice a day to regain strength in my legs.

"Everyone was there to motivate me to walk again. My friends, my family and even strangers - patients in the same ward, their family members, the staff - were cheering me on," she says.

She remembers that it was during Chinese New Year of 2012 that she started feeling sensation in her left toe. It then twitched, she says.

There was no looking back. Six to eight months later, she was taking the first few steps and in another nine months, Madam Rangithamalar was walking again, albeit slowly.

Everyone cheered her on.

"They even clapped when I made progress. They were happy for me and not expecting anything in return," she recalls with a smile.

"That was why I made up my mind to pay it forward. I decided to volunteer my time and help others. Then I found out from a friend that through RSVP Singapore, an organisation of senior volunteers, I could do just that. So I signed up to help senior citizens, children and other people in need," she says.

She joined in 2013. These days, she goes to the Care Corner in Toa Payoh to lead senior citizens there in exercises twice a week, spending an hour and a half there each time.

And she does so despite having pain in the back once in a while.

Whenever RSVP Singapore organises events, she would volunteer to help out.

"I'm doing this for selfish reasons. I feel that by paying it forward, it makes me happy to be alive and well again," she says.

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