PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 5GO Appreciation Reception

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 1 September 2019

Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 5GO Appreciation Reception on 1 September 2019. 

Silver Generation Ambassadors, friends, a very good afternoon to all of you.

I am delighted to be here for your fifth annual lunch. It is a small gesture of appreciation to thank all the Silver Generation (SG) Ambassadors for your hard work.

This year is also a milestone occasion, because we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Silver Generation Office (SGO). We created it as the Pioneer Generation Office (PGO) back in 2014, to inform the pioneers about the Pioneer Generation Package. And to reassure our pioneers, who have worked so hard for Singapore, that they would be well taken care of in their old age. And the best way to do this, we decided, was to go door-to-door in person, spending time with the seniors, sometimes up to an hour in a single home. Chat with them, understand their needs, explain the package to them – what parts of the package can be useful for them, and if there are other things that we need to follow-up, also to follow-up. It was a good idea but the key thing was we needed to find the people to go and do this outreach. And we knew it would be a lot of work, and you needed people who were passionate, who were dedicated, who believed in this programme, who wanted to go out and talk to these pioneer generation senior citizens, and connect with them and help them. And so we had the idea of PG Ambassadors. And from that idea, to setting up the office, to recruiting people, training people, to launching the programme, and carrying it on day by day, month by month, with 300,000 pioneer generation Singaporeans. Without all of you who volunteered, and stuck with us, we could not have done this. Thank you very much.

Now that you have accomplished your mission, as PG Ambassadors, we decided that you were so valuable that we would give you a new mission. And because there are so many other things which we can do if we are able to reach the senior citizens and talk to them, and understand them and resolve problems with them.  So we renamed the PGO, the SGO, and we have merged it with the Agency for Integrated Care, AIC, under the Ministry of Health, and that way we formally recognise your role supporting seniors, whether it is healthcare, whether it is social assistance, whether it is community support. And we gave you the most recent mission, and that is to explain the Merdeka Generation Package (MGP) to members of the MG.

You help to connect seniors with agencies and community partners who deal with their needs. You have become, as SG Ambassadors one additional important channel of engagement with our residents. We already have other grassroots channels under the PA – we have the RCs, NCs, but these cover all residents in a neighbourhood. Now we have the PG Ambassadors in addition to the RCs and NCs. You are focused, you target the older generation, and you tailor your message and your help to the older generation and you become specialists. You know how to talk to these groups, you are on the same wave-length with them, and you are able to help them.  Most importantly, your approach is high touch and personalised. You are not just telling them about policies, because that they can watch on television. But you are systematically meeting them, getting to know them, building relations, winning their trust. It takes a while to get to know older people, because naturally older people are cautious when strangers approach them – they have to be cautious. Sometimes you have an uphill task, because you will meet an uncle and he will say, “I missed by two weeks – born two weeks too early, or born two weeks too late or took up citizenship not quite on the cut-off date – so how about helping me to appeal?” And sometimes you can and sometimes you cannot. But in the end, you win many over people with your kindness of heart and your sincerity, with the human touch. And it is so much so that even if the seniors do not need any specific assistance programme, they still enjoy the companionship of the ambassadors. You have become their friend, a listening ear for them.

At the same time, you have been able to use other ways of reaching your target group. For example, the MGs are younger than the PG, they are generally better educated. They are more open to other means of engagement, beyond face-to-face meetings. You can phone them, you can Skype them, you can email them as well. And many of them are still working, so you can meet them in not just their homes, but also in their workplaces. For example, the uncle selling newspapers just now on the roadside.  And so you have reached out at workplaces, at faith-based organisations, CCs, hawker centres, libraries, polyclinics or MG outreach programmes. I just attended one yesterday in Ang Mo Kio Central. We have had 18 or 19 so far1, and we are going to have them all over Singapore. This has been very well received. You have also been working with other government agencies to provide information online on the website and through an app. And to create an electronic version of the MG Card which we can carry around conveniently on our smartphones. So through these new initiatives, we have reached 140,000 MG seniors so far, within a short span of five months. There are a lot of us – 500,000 MG seniors. So we have reached 140,000, that means one down, and two and a half to go, and I look forward to you completing this within the next couple of years.

We therefore would like to thank all the SG Ambassadors for your hard work and support, especially those of you who have walked with us the whole five-year journey since 2014. Since we started the MG programme outreach, the volunteer pool has increased by one quarter, and many of you, young and old, have joined in because of a desire to give back to society, to participate.

Among the youngest ones are two 18-year-old girls, Lim Qi En and Lim Qi Hui, still in school, who were inspired by their mother, Mdm Belinda Neo, to volunteer. I met them just now and I asked them how they manage. They said “A-levels are coming at the end of the year,” but they’re doing it. I said “Are you able to connect with the old people?” They said, “Sometimes the old people prefer to talk to young ones, it gives them energy.” It gives me energy to hear young people talking like that, and to know that from their conversations with us – the MG and PG – they get to learn something about old Singapore, about how this came to be, and to appreciate and cherish what they have today.

I also met our oldest, most senior SG Ambassador, Mr Goh Chong Tee. He joined in 2015, when he was 79, and he is already 83 years old. There is no picture (of him on the screen) but you will not recognise him if you see him because he does not look like he is 83 years old. But he is spry, he is active, he learned to use a tablet so that he can carry all the information he needed when he meets other seniors. And he exemplifies active aging, lifelong learning, and giving back and paying forward.

Appreciating our SGAs

Therefore because you have done all these good thing – in Chinese they call it “默默耕耘”, quietly working without anybody taking notice, and without looking for attention – we are introducing SG Ambassador Service awards to recognise your contributions. It will recognise those who have been volunteering for several years. And especially grateful to 91 of the SG Ambassadors, who have been on this journey from day one in 2014. Over five years, probably spent over 500 hours servicing seniors. It takes you, I would guess, about half an hour per household, to go in, to chat, to get to know them, to write it up. So 500 hours means perhaps you have met one thousand old folks or more in that five years, each one of you, and each one is a warm connection that keeps Singapore’s society strong, cohesive, bonded, and happy. Happy that we belong, happy that we are cared for, happy that we are able to be a part of Singapore.

We also have the Exemplary SG Ambassador awards for 16 recipients who have made outstanding contributions. I met them just now, one of them is Ms Kalyanasundaram, and they go the extra mile. One of the seniors says he really missed home cooked Indian food, and so Ms Kalyanasundaram went the extra mile to find a friend who could provide and deliver the meals to him. And the food was so good, it reminded this old man of his mother’s cooking! It is a small act of kindness, but it went a long way to brighten up somebody’s life.

The SG Ambassadors’ efforts have made us a more caring and cohesive society, where we feel an obligation for one other, especially to the seniors, who have given their best years to Singapore. I hope more Singaporeans will find meaning in SGO’s cause, will come forward to become SG Ambassadors, as all of you have done, reinforce you, work with you, and carry that mission forward with you.

So keep up the good work, once again, and congratulations to all of the recipients.

Thank you very much.

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[1] There have been 9 out of 23 MG roadshows so far.