Friday 11 December 2015

Maids spend day off bringing cheer to Institute of Mental Health patients

By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2015

Every Sunday, Mrs Joyce Fernandez makes the 90-minute journey from Sembawang to Buangkok to spend two hours bringing cheer to patients at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

This, despite her six-day work week taking care of a family, including a nine-year-old boy.

The 44-year-old Filipino domestic worker is one of 54 maids in a volunteer group called Ladies in the Power of Service (Lips) who regularly visit long-stay patients - those who have been warded at the IMH for more than a year.

They sing, draw, play mahjong with and talk to the patients. More importantly, they bring joy to the patients' lives.

There are 1,000 long-stay IMH patients and only about a third of them receive regular visitors.

A 66-year-old patient, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua, and who has been at IMH for 13 years with schizophrenia, said: "When the volunteers come, I feel there is a change in routine and I enjoy talking to them, interacting with them, taking part in the activities that they organise."

His family has not visited him for years and he looks forward to Lips' Sunday visits. "I treat them as friends, it makes life more enjoyable and bearable," he said. "It's different from interacting with other patients... and helps my recovery."

His favourite activities are drawing and singing with them.

Lips started in November 2012 with just six domestic workers who met through a training course at the Filipino Overseas Workers in Singapore and wanted a meaningful way to spend their one day off each week.

Founder Vivian Hina, 40, said: "We had a friend working at IMH, former pharmacy technician Lilibeth Galvez - she asked if we wanted to join the volunteer group.

"We found it enjoyable and rewarding, so we're still here three years later."

Through word of mouth, a total of 54 members now volunteer with the group. "We never thought we'd grow this big," said Ms Hina, who is a team leader at Lips.

Each week, the women organise themselves into the same six teams and visit the same wards, so patients and volunteers can get to know one another better.

In all, the IMH has about 300 active volunteers who spend 25,000 hours a year conducting activities for the long-stay patients. Other groups include retirees, students, housewives and Singapore Airlines cabin crew.

Madam Au Yong Lai Chan, the principal assistant nurse at the long-stay slow rehabilitation ward The Straits Times visited, said her 50 patients - aged 43 to 67 - love it when Lips visits.

"The majority of my patients have been here for more than 10 years," she said. "They seldom have friends and families visiting them and they are very happy when Lips comes."

• To be an IMH volunteer, visit the Be a Volunteer page under About Us at

Causes Week 2015: Ladies in Power of Service -RazorTV

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