Ms Cheryl Lim: Bridging The Gap Between Seniors & The Community

Assistant Manager Ms Cheryl Lim plays an important role in NTUC Health’s inter-generational programme. From shared birthday celebrations and excursions, to structured activities throughout the year, Cheryl has been organising these events to bring our seniors, pre-schoolers and members of the community together since 2016. She has seen the shared benefits our seniors and kids enjoy, and witnessed many precious moments from these interactions. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting face-to-face interactions, Cheryl has transformed the IG programme using digital mediums, and kept the bonds between our seniors and kids intact.

We sat down with Cheryl for a deep dive into the inter-generational programme, and to find out what inspired her to pursue this unique career.

Our seniors and pre-schoolers bonding over arts and crafts.

Tell us about a typical day with the Inter-generational (IG) Programme at NTUC Health and your role in it.

We collaborate with our partners to discuss the three-tiered plan for our Day Care clients and pre-schoolers: Basic – for ad hoc events; Intermediate – where they meet on a regular basis; and Advanced – where long-term activities are planned as part of our elderly care services and school curriculum. We create an activity plan which can range from making paper lanterns and performances, to story-telling sessions, and then we sit back to let the magic happen!

Interaction and co-learning is important to us. For example, seniors can read stories to children in Mandarin, and the children can teach the seniors how to play word Bingo in English. We tell our seniors, “The children look up to you, you are their role models.”

Do you have any memorable stories from the IG programme?

There was a retired school principal who had lost the ability to speak because of dementia-related aphasia. During an art and craft IG session in 2016, she was able to speak the child’s name, much to our surprise. When the child was using a pair of scissors, she was also encouraging him, “You are doing very well!” To hear her speak was quite amazing. Through the IG programme, we get to learn more about our senior’s abilities and skills.

Mr Yeo requests for a hearing aid to join his young buddy in a reading session.

Another senior, who was hard of hearing, did not want to miss out on a reading session with the child, and so requested for a hearing aid. He wanted to hear the child speak, and was even able to read the story back to the child! 

Sometimes, seniors may feel reluctant to join in activities but will feel encouraged when the kids are there. There is something about the children’s presence that motivates them to participate in activities and conversation.

Cheryl (left most) visits an elderly care organisation in Berlin to learn about their inter-generational programmes

How has your work transformed over the years?

Since the beginning of the IG programme, we have always believed that social engagement and having a supportive environment are important factors for our seniors’ well-being. We wanted to empower seniors and children to support each other through interactions and co-learning opportunities and bring the excitement of a ‘kampung spirit’ to our communities.

To start, I was mostly on-the-ground looking for partners who were co-located or sited near our Day Centres for Seniors. I introduced the IG programme to the preschools and guided them on how to facilitate it, starting with mass exercise and performances. Subsequently, I would meet with teachers and our Day Centre managers to plan more interactive activities for the year.

Now, my focus is on our collaboration with the National Heritage Board. This programme will bring our seniors and children together to explore arts and heritage through virtual visits to the Growing Up gallery. They will also have the opportunity to co-learn and co-create artworks inspired by Singapore’s history, all with the guidance of artists from the National Museum of Singapore.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the IG programme?

At the moment, we have paused group outings and face-to-face activities. We used to be able to have our seniors and kids work in pairs and interact in-person. Now, we have brought the IG programme online. For example, group exercises are now conducted over Zoom. They also collaborate for online group performances, such as dikir barat where the children can explore and learn about Singapore’s culture from our seniors.

We are very intentional with making sure that our seniors and the kids can continue to interact with each other over virtual meetings, so we introduced games like pictionary and charades where they could talk to each other, ask questions and stay engaged through conversations. 

Also, before the pandemic, I used to visit all our Day Centres separately – now I can join all of them virtually for the IG programme at the same time!

Outings, like this trip to Singapore Botanical Gardens back in 2018, are put on hold till the pandemic situation improves

What about the IG programme inspires you?

Through the IG programme, I saw that even if a senior had a disability or dementia, the children did not discriminate against them. As long as the senior is present, reading or playing with them, they are very accepting of them. The children’s presence helped to encourage seniors to join in more activities and they feel comfortable around the kids. Seeing the atmosphere in the Day Centre brighten when the children are present is very heartwarming. Those are some of the precious moments that inspire me.

Why did you choose this unique career path?

Cheryl spent many of her growing up days with her grandparents and cousins, learning about life in the past through her grandfather’s storytelling and learning how to bake CNY cookies with her grandmother

Growing up with my grandparents and seeing their wealth of skills and experiences influenced the person I am today. My childhood was not short of social interaction with extended family members, and this taught me how important seniors and kids are in shaping each other’s lives.

I always knew my career would be related to work with children and women, but I never knew I’d be here when I first graduated and began looking for a job.

While in Melbourne, I worked in the early childhood sector and learnt about children’s day care. I had hoped for an environment where my grandparents could be cared for and at the same time develop close relationships with younger members of community.

That was when my research into inter-generational programmes began. So when I joined NTUC Health, I saw the puzzle pieces of my career come together. To me, this is not just a job, it is also a calling.