It was a bright sunny morning when the taxi driver dropped me off at the driveway to the quaint neighbourhood in Dover. “Here quite nice,” he said as I stepped out.
The colourful children’s playground between two blocks caught my eyes. A group of ah mas, standing arms-width apart, were swinging their arms in the air as if swimming free style, while listening closely to instructions blasting from a speaker.
As the recording came to end, they laughed and clapped, and reached immediately for their bags and containers. Each was excited to share the dishes that she had prepared.
It started five years ago when Jennifer and her friends decided that some things are simply more enjoyable when done together than alone. She began to gather her peers to do morning exercise together.
Five years on, the group grew to about 20, all ladies in their twilight years staying in adjacent blocks. They meet twice a week for some stretching and simple workouts, followed by a simple breakfast together.
It was their monthly birthday celebration on the day of our visit. The birthday girl, Rose, who is 82, was making her special fried noodle at home when we arrived.
Meanwhile, the lone table at the void deck below was quickly filled up with boxes of food. Yam cake, carrot cake, fried noodles, soon kueh, ondeh-ondeh, bubur pulut hitam, fishballs, crisps, fruits. It was quite a spread. These ladies with years of cooking experience behind them had whipped up some amazing dishes for the hearty breakfast. I knew we were in luck for some delightful treats.
“Less salt, less oil. You may find it a bit bland or tasteless. We old people need to watch our diet more carefully, so we prepare all the food ourselves,” one of the ladies, Yvonne, told me.
There was definitely a strong community spirit and genuine concern for one another. As we tucked into the food laid before us, one lady asked another about her weak knee that was recovering from a recent fall. Another old lady in wheelchair joined shortly after.
“She used to be one of us, until she suffered a stroke. Now she’s wheelchair-bound. I had to get her daughter down to find out what she can and cannot eat,” another helpful lady, Angelina, shared.
As conversations flowed, I learned that some of them have also gone out of their way to invite the rest to community projects. Angelina, for example, has been encouraging her peers to join her on food drives.
Their hospitality extends not only to us, the visitors, but also to any other neighbour who walked past. Food was offered every time someone passes. The strong bond that has forged over the years is remarkable. I left the gathering with a happy tummy and a contented heart knowing that in times of any difficulty and need, they would always have each other to count on. And that help is just doorsteps away.
Communities like theirs take time to build. But it only takes one person to take the plunge and initiate a connection. Are you the one? Join us in our next Let’s Makan Connector Networking Session to find out how to get started.