Introduced to LB by a former colleague, Marilyn Choo, first joined the organisation as a English-speaking volunteer to assist seniors with letter reading. For almost two decades now, Marilyn has been visiting the seniors living in Aljunied, diligently spending weekends and evenings with the residents residing in one-room rental units. Today, she leads a team of volunteers who are committed to befriending, ensuring that no seniors are left behind. “Marilyn and her team are very dedicated and sincere to the seniors. They often go the extra mile to meet their needs and help them as much as they can” said Stacey, the Befriender Executive who oversees the team’s volunteering efforts. Their selfless service to the seniors through the years earned them the Befriender Group of the Year award at the 2019 LB Annual Appreciation & Awards ceremony.
Despite being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition at 32, Marilyn did not let the illness get in her way. For Marilyn, it can be extremely strenuous to climb stairs or walk long distances to make home visits as any slight movement would inflict pain to the body. She recounts the early days where her team had to lift heavy bags of food rations up the stairs as there were no lifts at the overhead bridges. Though tough, Marilyn focused wholeheartedly on meeting the needs of her seniors, which motivated her to rise above her adversaries. In fact, it was a blessing in disguise as the constant inflammation she experienced helped her to understand and relate to mobility issues faced by seniors. In people with Fibromyalgia, the brain and nerves may misinterpret or overact to normal pain signals, affecting one’s emotions and energy level. Experiencing feelings of anxiousness allowed Marilyn to also understand and empathise with seniors who struggle with mental health issues.
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, all home visits have been suspended during the Circuit Breaker period and volunteering efforts were directed to the distribution of food rations and essentials. Marilyn’s team prioritises the seniors’ safety and well-being by preparing surgical masks, face shields and adhering to all precautionary measures during the packing and distribution. Beyond carrying out the tasks on hand, Marilyn makes the additional effort to get to know the seniors, find out their needs and individual life stories. It’s in her caring nature to caution seniors of the food or drinks not to consume for their well-being. She also checks on other seniors when she makes her rounds, ensuring that they wear their masks properly and keep a safe distance in public places. Many of these residents would greet, wave or smile at Marilyn when they see her in the vicinity.
Marilyn’s team would sometimes hold celebrations and events at void decks, and the seniors would participate in them enthusiastically. Many have requested for Marilyn to take photos of or with them to remember those moments. “Volunteering is not easy as we have to remain committed to our responsibilities, but the smiles of the seniors keep me going everyday”. The opportunity to befriend the seniors in their golden years and be a part of their simple joy are enough to put a smile on Marilyn’s face.
“I do not know how to overcome the pain from my Fibromyalgia condition. But what I do know is that I will take life one step at a time and continue giving to these seniors. Nothing beats this purpose that I found through making a difference in their lives,” said Marilyn.