Founder Loh Pei Yi reflects on Project Gift of Song’s journey of celebrating life and embracing mortality through building compassionate communities at the intersection of music and terminal illness.
“Only 14?” My volunteers and I exchanged small smiles as the Minister for Health Mr Ong Ye Kung tried to guess the age of our youngest volunteer. At the kind invitation of the Singapore Hospice Council (SHC), we had the opportunity to set up a booth at the 8th Singapore Palliative Care Conference (SPCC) in July, which Minister Ong had graced as the Guest-of-Honour.
We explained that Project Gift of Song (PGoS) comprises youth volunteers across Singapore, ranging from secondary school students to university graduates.
This was not the first time that our volunteers’ youth caught others by surprise. Many were curious about our motivations to champion end-of-life care at such young ages. Others marvelled at the size of our organisation – now 80-strong with representation from seven institutions. PGoS is now a far cry from our humble origins as a passion project started out by six friends at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of 2020. We had been inspired to harness our shared enthusiasm for music to give back to the community after witnessing how it united people globally during times of uncertainty.
Our venture into palliative care was perhaps a decision of serendipity — I had chanced upon a news feature about Ambulance Wish Singapore (AWS) granting the final wishes of patients nearing end-of-life. Furthermore, we were appalled by findings from a Ministry of Health report, which revealed that our final ten years of life would be spent in illness and disability despite Singapore’s world-class healthcare system. This cemented our desire to explore the intersections between music and terminal illness, by leveraging the solace music brings to maximise healthspan in our rapidly ageing society. With generous support from the Young ChangeMakers Grant, we embarked on a fundraiser in support of AWS and to raise awareness of end-of-life care. Through merchandise sales, e-waste collection, and a virtual charity concert, we have successfully raised $7012.80 to date, including 108kg of e-waste collected.
As part of our partnership with AWS, our volunteers had the opportunity to learn from the life experiences of a beneficiary’s spouse. A particularly touching lesson was to be vocal in expressing appreciation for our loved ones, before it was too late. We also learnt about Singapore’s palliative care movement through preparations for the SPCC 2021 closing ceremony. Putting together historical images from SHC’s Commemorative Handbook, our volunteers arranged and performed “Our Hospice Story” alongside Dr Jamie Zhou, who wrote the song as a tribute to the pioneers of palliative care in Singapore.
We also learned more about the therapeutic use of music in healthcare. After reaching out to the Association of Music Therapy (Singapore), our volunteers conducted a music-for-wellness workshop for the public with the advice of palliative music therapist Ms Tammy Lim. Although the themes were very broad, a participant ended up spontaneously writing a song about loss; this underscored how music provided avenues for Singaporeans to express vulnerability about personal matters such as life and mortality.
These encounters and reflections empowered PGoS with the courage to explore the path less travelled, eventually discovering our identity in celebrating life and embracing mortality with the comfort of music. We engaged with the daycare hospice community in interactive music sessions and developed a community-led approach for individuals to leave a legacy with music. We aspire to leverage music to facilitate conversations on end-of-life matters. Currently, our volunteers spearhead heart-to-heart conversations on end-of-life dilemmas and preferences. We also equip our volunteers with knowledge on music and end-of-life matters, from palliative care and Advance Care Planning to mindful compassion.
PGoS’ partnership with SHC has provided us with valuable resources and opportunities along the way. Working together with Pallipals, a local Community Involvement Project by Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, we jointly invited SHC to conduct a Palliative Care 101 course with a special sharing segment by SHC Board Member Dr Mervyn Koh. We were also honoured to join the recent Leaders Forum as part of a series of national conversations on raising death literacy and awareness of palliative care, and are profoundly excited for further community engagement opportunities in collaboration with SHC. It is also our greatest privilege to be working closely with SHC member organisations such as Dover Park Hospice and Assisi Hospice; as well as the Agency for Integrated Care.
We believe Singapore’s youth are harbingers of the future that we envision, where seniors can live well and leave well. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to our volunteers past and present, mentors, and partners who believed in us, encouraged us and contributed to our cause in various ways. Your support means a lot to us as we collectively pursue our cause, one gift of song at a time.
Photos: Project Gift of Song