Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Pioneer Generation Ambassadors: PM Lee praises 3,000 for reaching out to elderly

Volunteers visited 120,000 pioneers to explain govt healthcare benefits to them
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2015

In the past 10 months, 3,000 volunteers quietly visited 120,000 pioneers at home to tell them about the benefits of new national healthcare programmes.

Many of these seniors live alone, suffer various ailments and are rarely seen at community events.

Reaching out to them is a difficult task, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night at a dinner to show appreciation for the volunteers' dedication and hard work.

"You embody the Singapore spirit of kindness, respect and a sense of shared responsibility," he told 1,600 of the volunteers.



These Pioneer Generation Ambassadors come from all walks of life: Students, housewives, professionals, retirees and even fellow pioneers.

They visit the pioneers at home and explain the benefits they will receive under the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) and the MediShield Life plan which provides for lifelong health insurance.

The PGP is a good policy, said Mr Lee, but no matter how well intended it is, "we still must make the effort for pioneers to understand it, so they can take advantage of it".

The volunteers have a difficult job, he noted.

They must master the details of the policies and communicate the details simply and clearly, in terms that make sense to the elderly.

Serving pioneers also takes passion, patience and commitment, as it takes time to learn how to interact with the elderly, particularly if they live in different circumstances and speak a less familiar language, he said.

Mr Lee praised the volunteers for involving these seniors in the community, ensuring that their daily needs can be met, accompanying them to clinics when they are ill and returning to check on them, and lending them a listening ear.

At the dinner, Mr Lee also launched a book with stories of 50 pioneers who the ambassadors met on their home visits.

More than 40 of these pioneers were present at the dinner.

Mr Lee said their stories would remind Singaporeans of how far the country has come, and hoped they would inspire the younger generation to build on their legacies.

"In less than a fortnight, we will be celebrating National Day. It is a good time to reflect on what kind of society we want to build," he said.

"Pioneers made sacrifices for one another and for the nation, and we need that spirit to continue in this generation and future generations," he added.

Mr Lee also noted: "Through their service and selfless dedication, Pioneer Generation Ambassadors embody the very same values and spirit that pioneers upheld to make Singapore a better home for all of us."

Mr Lee urged more Singaporeans to join the programme and keep the Singapore spirit alive.




Thanked 1,600 Pioneer Generation Ambassadors (PGA) at the Meadows at Gardens by the Bay last evening. These Ambassadors...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, July 28, 2015










They go knocking on seniors' doors
Pioneer Generation Ambassadors visit the elderly at home to explain healthcare benefits
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2015

Volunteers Nick Low, 16, and Gladys Ong, 48, knocked on the door of an elderly man's home repeatedly, but were greeted by an ominous silence. When the door finally opened, they saw a pale 73-year-old who told them he was suffering from piles and was bleeding.

He lived alone and was reluctant to go to hospital because he said he could not afford the charges.

After some persuasion, the pair took him to hospital in a taxi, which they paid for, and attended to him before he was warded.

Nick, a student at the Institute of Technical Education, continued to visit him after he was discharged.

He and Ms Ong are among 3,000 volunteers who had been trained to visit seniors at home under the Pioneer Generation Ambassador Programme. This is to explain the healthcare benefits they receive from the Government.



Last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked these volunteers at a dinner at Gardens By The Bay. Mr Lee, citing Mr Low's unexpected encounter, said: "Such experiences also helped Nick to better understand our healthcare system and the needs of his own grandparents and family."

He praised the volunteers for drawing seniors into the community, ensuring their daily needs are met, helping them during emergencies and lending them an ear.

On their visits, the volunteers would explain to seniors their benefits under the Pioneer Generation Package, which subsidises their healthcare bills and MediShield Life, which provides health insurance for life.

Nick joined the programme last October. He would visit seniors about five times a week during his school holidays, and once or twice a week during term time. Each session is between three and six hours.

"I speak Hokkien and Cantonese fluently, so I thought that maybe I could help the community by being a Pioneer Generation Ambassador," he said.

The personalised approach of visiting seniors was adopted because one in 13 pioneers lives alone.

Eight in 10 of them do not visit existing community venues, such as community clubs or residents' committee centres, regularly.

Since the Pioneer Generation Office was set up last August, its ambassadors have reached out to 110,000 pioneers, or one-quarter of the 450,000 individuals aged 66 and older this year who were born here or became citizens before 1987.

The volunteers include students, retirees, housewives and professionals, with the youngest aged 15 and the oldest, 89. About 60 per cent of them them are aged between 46 and 65, while another 20 per cent are 65 and older.

Ms Ong, a housewife, said she struggled somewhat when translating medical and policy terms into Mandarin, Hokkien or Teochew.

Occasionally, they would encounter seniors who were unfriendly or suspicious. "If they refuse to engage, we will not force them. But for those who don't slam the door even though they're hostile, we explain the reason for our visit and they would listen," she said.


















Volunteers' pay may send wrong message

When I signed up to be a Pioneer Generation Ambassador (PGA) this year, I learnt that I would be paid for my time, which is termed as "out of pocket expenses".

PGAs work in pairs and each PGA is given $10. Their duties are to inform pioneers about the benefits of the Pioneer Generation Package, and to undertake data entry with the information gathered on each pioneer.

PGAs who are not able to spare the time for data entry, but are dedicated in engaging the pioneers, are taken out from the programme even if they have opted not to receive any reimbursement.

While this method is probably cost- and time-efficient, it sends the wrong message if PGAs are called volunteers in all the programme materials.

It could also attract the wrong type of people and discourage those who genuinely wish to reach out to pioneers.

It is also wrong to use the term "volunteer" on anyone who is clearly paid to deliver a fixed amount of work. If we can call PGAs "volunteers" and pay them, then we should also pay our grassroots leaders and perhaps pay them more handsomely.

The spirit of volunteering is about giving from the heart. Volunteering is about helping, not hiring; giving, not taking; contributing, not calculating. Volunteers are ordinary people who carry out extraordinary acts in big or small ways. These acts, given freely, are what bind the community together.

If you put a price tag on volunteering, then volunteers should be called employees, and organisations who pay volunteers, such as the PG office, should probably hire them instead.

Quek May Ling (Ms)
ST Forum, 12 Oct 2015





Token of appreciation for volunteers' efforts

We thank Ms Quek May Ling ("Volunteers' pay may send wrong message"; last Monday) for her feedback on the Pioneer Generation Ambassador outreach programme.

We agree with Ms Quek that the spirit of volunteerism is about giving from the heart. The Pioneer Generation Ambassadors are volunteers who help our pioneers understand and utilise the benefits of government programmes, such as the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life.

As ambassadors, these volunteers conduct home visits to explain these schemes to pioneers in a language they understand. This is a time-consuming effort.

Our ambassadors record basic information of the engagement after each visit. This ensures that pioneers who need follow-up assistance receive it promptly, and facilitates subsequent engagements with the pioneers.

The aggregated records of the pioneers also help us monitor trends or emerging needs within a specific locality and, subsequently, enable us to engage community stakeholders to develop local programmes and services for these pioneers.

Many of our ambassadors have also gone the extra mile to connect the pioneers with social programmes in the community or help them apply for other support schemes.

The Pioneer Generation Ambassadors take pride in what they do and undergo extensive training to learn the skills and knowledge to effectively communicate with the pioneers.

As a gesture of our appreciation, the ambassadors are provided with a token allowance to help defray the cost of food and transport incurred in the course of their voluntary efforts, similar to what many volunteer schemes offer.

Chan Wei Gan
Programme Director (Operations)
Pioneer Generation Office
ST Forum, 19 Oct 2015


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