As the world comes together to celebrate International Volunteer Day, Singapore Hospice Council wants to take this opportunity to shine a light on the incredible individuals who dedicate their time and energy to make a difference in the lives of others.
Today, we feature three amazing volunteers who generously shared their personal stories and experiences with us.
Meet Han Guat, Yen-Lin, and Norhaiyah – the compassionate souls behind the success of our outreach initiatives.
Share a bit about yourself!
Han Guat: I am a homemaker and volunteering is my passion. I have been involved in various volunteering works at healthcare organisations and Buddhist temples since 2012. For hospice care volunteering works, I have experience in day hospice and inpatient hospice.
Yen-Lin: I am a mid-career switcher and work in the social service sector now. I used to work in the media industry.
Norhaiyah: I’ve been a volunteer nurse at Hospice Care Group (now known as HCA Hospice) since 1982, a few months after graduating from nursing school as assistant nurse.
What inspired me to be a volunteer with SHC?
Han Guat: The reason why I became a volunteer with SHC is to raise awareness about palliative care in the community, so that people can be more open in broaching the topic of death in our “death-phobic” culture. Death is a taboo topic and some people may feel that talking about it will make it happen faster and will therefore, shun the “d” word whenever possible. In reality, death is inevitable and an honest conversation will allow us to be more prepared when that time comes, with a calm and peaceful mind.
Yen-Lin: In between jobs, I was trying to spend my time more productively and decided to volunteer. I volunteer at a few other organisations and across interest groups. It was especially so after the death of a family member.
Norhaiyah: During my tenure in HCA, I’ve been assigned to several hospice patients that needed home care. When I came back to Singapore in 2021, I felt a bit lost. It’s like having to rebuild my life all over again. As I see it, I’m better suited to work in the community environment as I’ve been doing in Malaysia for the past 20 years. So, it’s the logical choice for me to pick up where I’ve left off, which is hospice care. And I’m very happy to see that now the hospice has included other medical conditions in the palliative care.
Do you have a personal connection to hospice care or end-of-life experiences that motivated you to get involved?
Yen-Lin: I was a caregiver to my family member and realised how little recognition and/or consideration is given to death and end-of-life issues. People are not really receptive to discussing these topics that they consider taboo, as there is the superstition that if we talk about it, it’ll happensooner. We were with himas he breathed his last breath and it was life-changing. Separately, at the end of last year, my uncle passed away after a battle with cancer, he was only offered a palliative care option 2-3 days prior to passing. We were given grace when my uncle was conscious enough to convey his wishes to us. He had not had Advance Care Planing (ACP) done, so his passing was unexpected. However, we took comfort in the fact that we were with him as he passed on.
Norhaiyah: Yes, many. As a nurse I encountered many patients with terminal cancer and end of life issues. I saw the pain and confusion the patient and family went through, gives me the motivation that I need to do more outside of the normal working environment.
Any memorable volunteer experience or story about a meaningful interaction you’ve had during an outreach event? Why?
Han Guat: My most memorable volunteer experience was when I met an elderly couple during the “Project Happy Apples” outreach event last year. I had a meaningful and interactive conversation with them. I was truly impressed by their openness in discussing death and their preparation for the journey. They demonstrated a proactive attitude in talking about death and they were an exemplar to all of us.
Yen-Lin: There was no one particular encounter. I noticed that those who were more receptive to listening to what we were doing were those who are younger (young adults) and those who are older (in their 60s and above). When asked further, they shared with me that they had personal experiences where the death of a close loved one opened their eyes to the world of palliative care, and allowed them to be more open to talk about death and end-of-life issues. Also, those who were older were more forthright with their opinions and sharing, as they felt that they had lived enough of life.
Norhaiyah: From my interaction I saw that people are still afraid to talk about palliative and end of life issues. We need to create awareness and reach out to the public: young and old.
How do you handle sensitive topics related to end-of-life care during outreach activities?
Han Guat: It is very common to see people shun away sensitive topics related to end-of-life care during outreach activities. Once I met a senior citizen at an outreach event who told me that preparation for end-of-life care was not for him. I shared that it is always good to know a thing or two about end-of-life care and we can perceive it as a knowledge and to share it with our friends and family who may need it and find it useful for them. In life, people by and large will prepare for the arrival of the newborn but it is equally important to prepare for our final departure, namely to live and to leave well.
Yen-Lin: I would usually introduce where we are from and what we are doing and if they seem curious, according to their facial expressions or body language, I will continue and give a bit more information. Another way would be to ask for permission to share more. Most of the people are willing to listen after I ask. But those who are not willing, would wave me off to move away. In any case, I would share a brochure that would hopefully plant a seed in those we encounter to do their CPF nomination, Advanced Care Planning (ACP), and Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).
Norhaiyah: It’s very difficult to handle sensitive topics related to end-of-life care during the outreach activities. Not many would want to talk about it in the open especially to a stranger like us. If there is, I would bring them in a separate corner away from others, so as to make them more comfortable to talk.
What advice would you give to individuals or groups considering volunteering with SHC?
Han Guat: Equip ourselves with knowledge of palliative care so that we could share all pertinent information with the public at the outreach event. Be patient, kind and compassionate when dealing with people.
Last but not least, it would be beneficial if you have some experience in dealing with hospice patients, as you could learn more and have a holistic perspective on palliative care, which could certainly help with your volunteering roles at the outreach event.
Yen-Lin: Don’t be discouraged that the topic is taboo and not many people are interested in listening to what we have to say. In a way, we are enlightened to the fact that: to know death and dying is to learn how to live our lives more meaningfully and purposefully. And because of this knowledge, we know that life is so transient – be good and kind to ourselves and people who love us, and if possible, to all that we meet.
Norhaiyah: First, they need to know what they’re into. They must be comfortable to handle issues like death and dying. It can be emotionally and psychologically challenging. Volunteerism is a passion and devotion not just about getting extra credit points in the extra curriculum activities but goes beyond it. You are building a relationship through volunteerism not only with the individual but also the community.
THANK YOU FOR VOLUNTEERING WITH US
On this International Volunteer Day, we express our deepest gratitude to all the volunteers who contribute to the success of our palliative care outreach programmes and initiatives. Their stories inspire us to continue our mission of advancing public understanding and advocating for quality palliative care services for everyone.
Photos: Singapore Hospice Council