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A friendly face in the neighbourhood, housewife Patma Gopal gives back to community

SINGAPORE — Madam Patma Gopal, 55, has suffered from a thyroid disorder for 23 years. The condition causes sharp pain in her legs and eyes at times, forcing her to lose sleep at night.

Madam Patma Gopal has been a member of the Chua Chu Kang Residents' Committee for almost two decades. She also volunteers as a befriender with Fei Yue Community Services. Photo: Fei Yue Community Services

Madam Patma Gopal has been a member of the Chua Chu Kang Residents' Committee for almost two decades. She also volunteers as a befriender with Fei Yue Community Services. Photo: Fei Yue Community Services

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SINGAPORE — Madam Patma Gopal, 55, has suffered from a thyroid disorder for 23 years. The condition causes sharp pain in her legs and eyes at times, forcing her to lose sleep at night.

As a result, the mother-of-two quit her job as a factory operator in 1995. But instead of wallowing in self pity, Mdm Patma chose to help others as a volunteer.

In 2000, she had just undergone surgery when a group of 10 residents’ committee (RC) members showed up at her doorstep. Rather than ask for help for herself, Mdm Patma, a housewife whose son and daughter were eight and 10 respectively then, asked if she could join them as a volunteer.

“I had this passion (to be more involved in the community) for a very long time (since both my parents passed away in the 80s), but I did not know how to approach it,” she said.

After reaching out, Mdm Patma became a volunteer with Chua Chu Kang RC, and organised activities such as visits to Coney Island or Labrador Park for her neighbours.

Joining the RC was the starting point for her to become more involved in her community.

Now, when she goes marketing at the Teck Whye or Yew Tee market a few bus stops away, she watches out for seniors who may need help crossing the road, or those we can benefit from taxi-pooling with her to an area closer to their homes.

She also brings the food she makes for her family, such as chicken curry, fried rice or fruit salad, to the Cosy Corner under her block at Blk 217 Chua Chu Kang Central where senior citizens gather to share it with them. Mdm Patma also regularly visits seniors who live alone in their flats, bringing them biscuits or bread, and helping them with household chores.

Playing her part lies “in the simple things”, said Madam Patma who had been living in the same flat for close to 30 years.

In his Budget speech delivered in Parliament on Monday (Feb 19), Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat cited Mdm Patma as an example of volunteerism and community support in Singapore society. He said that “people who have the heart to give back to the community and make a difference to the lives of others” are the core of building a caring and cohesive society, while the Government introduces schemes like MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation package to strengthen support for seniors and the vulnerable.

He added that Mdm Patma “looks out for her neighbours, cares for sick and lonely seniors, and organises activities that bring the community together… In the process of helping others, (she) has found a stronger sense of fulfilment and purpose in life”.

Citing statistics that the volunteerism rate here has doubled over the last decade – from around 17 per cent to 35 per cent – Mr Heng said that “many of us share Madam Patma’s spirit, and are actively giving back to the community”. He also urged for more individuals to “respond collectively as one”, particularly as demographic and societal changes place greater demands on families, the community and the Government.

For Mdm Patma, her work in the community continues. The 55-year-old, who signed up as a befriender with Fei Yue Community Services in October last year, recently started visiting an elderly couple – who has two intellectually disabled adult children – living in Teck Whye twice a month. Her presence was a relief to the duo who are now in their 70s and are feeling increasingly strained by the care for their children, who require help to be brought to the Institute of Mental Health in Buangkok for check-ups.

One of the boys went missing recently, and the police found him hiding in a toilet at a Jurong East petrol station,said Mdm Patma. She added that the boys took three house visits to warm up to her. She said: “The parents don’t know what to do outside. They just stay at home only.”

Befriending the elderly is important to Mdm Patma, as even simple gestures can provide relief to those who are shy, and would rather stay at home. “They are bored, so they sleep most of the time,” she said.

One example was her neighbour of over 20 years, a Chinese woman in her 70s who lives two storeys above her and never acknowledged her greetings whenever they met in the lift in the past.

Mdm Patma was linked with her though Fei Yue, and she said she was surprised that her neighbour actually wanted help. By the second visit, they were cracking jokes, and the elderly woman, whose children live a distance away in MacPherson and Tampines, “showed a happy face to me”, she told TODAY.

“I am happy that we became friends,” said Mdm Patma.

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