New heritage tours programme for seniors by senior guides aim to reduce social isolation
Having lived near Balestier for much of his youth, retiree Jerry Low, 65, thought he knew the area like the back of his hand.
But he was surprised to learn that the elaborately designed Sim Kwong Ho shophouses in Balestier Road used to be owned by a Nonya - hence the intricate Peranakan motifs on the shopfront.
"I was shocked. I've been passing by the shophouses for years but I never knew the owner was a Nonya," said Mr Low.
"I used to go to Ruby Theatre every two weeks but I never knew about that."
The now-defunct theatre was located opposite the row of shophouses then, he added.
Mr Low picked up this fact while training to be a senior ambassador for Reminiscence Walks, a new heritage tour programme for seniors by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and Sage Counselling Centre.
Today, he is one of 10 senior ambassadors who take their fellow senior citizens on a guided tour of Balestier every month.
The tours were officially launched yesterday, with Mr Low and his fellow guides taking the first batch of seniors on a visit to historic sites and traditional businesses in the area.
Each tour lasts four hours and each group comprises about 20 seniors. Apart from Balestier, tours will be rolled out next year in Kampong Glam and Little India.
The programme aims to help reduce the social isolation of seniors-at-risk. It also allow seniors to help their peers by being guides, said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and community.
The places were chosen specifically with the aim of triggering old memories among the seniors and, thus, enhancing their mental agility, said Mr Tan.
"We wanted to take participants out to explore the precinct and reacquaint them with the heritage," said Mr Tan.
For example, as part of the Balestier tours, senior citizens set off from the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in groups of 10 to tour the intricately designed Sim Kwong Ho shophouses.
Along the way, they stop at Lam Yeo Coffee Powder, a traditional coffee grinder, as well as old-fashioned bakery Sweetlands Confectionery and Bakery.
Participant Koh Kee Seng, 70, a retired policeman who took part in yesterday's tour, said it was interesting to go to the bakery to see how bread was made the old-fashioned way. "It's a journey of remembrance," he said.
Triggering such old memories could help slow down the onset of early dementia, said Ms Shannen Ang, centre manager and senior counsellor at Sage Counselling Centre.
Many of the participants shared their own recollections during the walks and enjoyed the trip down memory lane, said Mr Jerry Low.
Some even asked for the tours to be held on a weekly basis, he added.
"When I hear this, it brings me joy to know that I can bring a little bit of happiness to them."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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