Over 400 Singapore Volunteers Spruce Up Homes For Elderly In Second Project Homeworks

50 One-Room Apartments Were Cleaned; Doors Painted And Some Bug-Infested Beds Replaced

SINGAPORE, 21st February 2006: Many hands make light work, and that was borne out by Habitat for Humanity Singapore’s second Operation Homeworks clean-up project earlier in the month.

Here’s what we do: Cleaning, clearing of clutter and painting were some tasks that the youth volunteers tackled.

Spick and span: The volunteers with the elderly beneficiary after a hard day’s work.

On a bright Saturday morning, hordes of volunteers, mostly students in their teens, gathered at two blocks of one-room apartments in Geylang, eastern Singapore, for registration and a briefing. High-spirited greetings and chatter could be heard in contrast to the almost sedate appearance of the adult volunteers, except for a 21-member father-and-son team called Alert Cadets. The fathers wanted their young sons to see the condition of poor housing in Singapore so that they would be thankful for what they have.

The first target: bedbugs. The pests are a grim reality for some elderly residents who are resigned to sleeping on bug-infested mattresses. Zainudin Nordin, mayor of Central Singapore Community Development Council, opened the event by telling the 400 volunteers not to be worried about bedbugs because “at the end of the day, you will be very satisfied with what you do”.

The mayor visited Danakody Rathanavalu, 87, at his one-room apartment. Though he was suffering from early stage dementia, Danakody was able to respond to the mayor’s questions about his life. The walls of Danakody’s 29 sq. m. apartment were lined with piles of old newspapers, magazines, letters and religious artefacts among other things. Canned food and dried foodstuff, many of which were past their expiry dates, were stored under the tables. Cockroaches lurked behind dusty boxes, plastic containers, and long forgotten items.

Zainuddin then led a team of Habitat volunteers to clear out unnecessary and expired foodstuffs, clean his toilet and kitchen, paint his door, and door grill. The volunteers also installed a new book shelf for Danakody and changed his bedbug-infested bed.

After more than six hours of hard work, smiles of satisfaction were aplenty despite aching limbs as the volunteers surveyed the result. Danakody’s apartment looked brighter, cleaner and more spacious. When asked, Danakody said he was happy with what the volunteers had done, given that he physically incapable of keeping his apartment clean.

Among those who helped Danakody was Disha Chawla, a 17-year-old student from the Overseas Family School in Singapore. The Mumbai native said she liked what Habitat is doing and found the work interesting for she had never painted till then. Disha painted the ceiling of Danakody’s toilet. “I feel good that I am working with old people. I feel bad for them because of the conditions that they are living in.” That said, Disha conceded that the elderly in Geylang are still better-off than the slum dwellers in Mumbai, India.

The Geylang project came four months after its successful pilot project to clean up one-room rental apartments of the elderly in an estate in the central part of the island state. In that project, over 300 volunteers turned up to help 44 elderly residents clean up their homes.

For this second project, the number of volunteers had increased by one-third to 400, and the number of beneficiary homes to 50.

The second Operation Homeworks was jointly organized by HFH Singapore and TOUCH Seniors Activity Center, part of the Singapore-based non-profit charitable organization TOUCH Community Services.

The Touch Seniors Activity Center organizes social activities for the elderly including the Homeworks beneficiaries and also assists them with household chores.According to HFH Singapore’s national director Yong Teck Meng, Operation Homeworks will be a quarterly event. Factors in the project’s favor are its weather-proof nature and the enthusiasm of volunteers. In addition, there is a demand for such assistance because many charitable bodies in Singapore tend to organize events that involve taking the old folks out of their homes for outings.

As Yong emphasized, with Operation Homeworks, volunteers are going into the elderly people’s homes to render assistance directly and in much needed areas, such as tackling the bug-infested mattresses. Given the strong support of volunteers for both projects, Yong is convinced that continuing Project Homeworks is the right approach.

Singapore has an extensive public housing system so there are no opportunities for building “traditional” Habitat for Humanity homes with homepartners.