Channel NewsAsia

Teens preserve the past with life stories of pioneers

The Beyond60 initiative, started and run by six students, aims to showcase some of Singapore's pioneer generation and help preserve the country's collective past.

SINGAPORE: Every fortnight, a group of three to four teenagers will go around the heartlands in search of old people to talk to. In fluent dialects, they try to elicit as many details of the past as possible to come up with a profile of these pioneers of Singapore.

Their aim: “To preserve our collective past and allow readers to draw motivation from their stories,” said Raffles Institution (RI) student Lim Bao-Long, who founded the Beyond60 initiative.

The 18-year-old was inspired to document the lives of elderly citizens after passing by a senior’s home during Chinese New Year this year. There was a festive mood in the air, but he saw an old man alone in his home who was staring dejectedly out of the window.

Struck by the scene, Bao-Long, who lives with his grandparents, was moved to do something to better engage the elderly.

Roping in Singapore Polytechnic student Cheong Jun Hong, 18, a friend who was well-versed in photography, they started the Beyond60 project on Facebook and a blog in April, recording the life stories of pioneers through stories and photos.

Since then, the pair have roamed the streets to seek out pioneers willing to share their life stories. They have also gone to elderly homes and active ageing events organised by grassroots organisations in search of more subjects.

Their finds so far include a 78-year-old artist whose pieces have been exhibited in Paris and a former Samsui woman who is enjoying the companionship of her eight grandchildren.

Last month, the team expanded to six members to keep the initiative sustainable and infuse more perspectives. They include students Lee Chia Jin from Catholic Junior College, Kelvin Lau and Glann Lee from Nanyang Junior College and 17-year-old Soo Zhen from RI.

The team had wanted to recruit more junior members so as to pass on the project, but it proved to be harder than they had thought. They found that their younger peers were generally not keen on working with the elderly.

But they hope to change this mindset slowly through such initiatives.

“Stories can connect people and we hope that it will change the public’s perception of the elderly,” said Bao-Long.

The stories of 12 pioneers have been posted online and the Facebook account has received more than 1,000 “likes”.

The team members, too, have seen a change in their attitudes towards the elderly. For example, they now strike up conversations with old folk or chat with random seniors over dinner at the hawker centre.

Kelvin, 18, recalled a man collecting cardboard in Ang Mo Kio estate. He did not stop to speak and Kelvin and two team members ended up following him around for 40 minutes.

The trio later discovered the man has a family but insisted on collecting cardboard to stay active and independent. Said Kelvin: “This (incident) helped me to break stereotypes of the elderly as being pitiful ... from him, I also learnt to be content and happy in whatever (I) do.”

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