Friday, November 22

Senior citizens blazing an active trail

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Ladies’ karaoke in progress.

OF the more than 40 senior citizen activity centres (SCAC) in Malaysia, the one in Miri is regarded as the most active, boasting a membership of over 12,000.

There are more than 200,000 senior citizens registered with the Department of Welfare in Malaysia. Many in the remote parts are not registered.

The SCAC is registered with the Welfare Department under the umbrella of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

The Welfare Department started to run senior citizen activity centres more than 30 years ago to help members spend quality time together, have a place to learn new things, and continue their social life after retirement.

Wong leads the tai chi group on stage.

Each state has at least one centre although some have more than two or three under state or federal purview.

These centres have their yearly agenda, organised by the members and their elected committee. They seek government grants for their activities.

Grace Tiong, a committee member of the Miri Senior Citizens Activity Centre, an affiliate of the Welfare Department, told thesundaypost the members attend classes for aerobics, tai chi and karaoke singing every day from 8am until 1pm.

The Miri Senior Citizens Activity Centre.

“We’re like students going to school. Most of us spend five ‘school days’ at the centre. Many joined after retiring at 56 while some at 60. Most of the members have been together for more than 20 years. So we know each other very well.”

The Miri SCAC committee is chaired by Yee Chew Seng with Wee Ah Siew as the secretary and Bong King Min as the treasurer. The other committee members include Bibi Sabariah, Grace Tiong, Alfred Sibat Rumpang, and Lina Kana.

A ping pong table is among the facilities for recreation and exercise at the centre.

Many ordinary members are contributing actively, especially those who have been with the centre for around 15 years. Their commitment has helped tremendously in managing the centre.

According to Tiong, karaoke singing is one of the favourite activities and many members turn up in the morning to sing after aerobics and tai chi practices. Some of the women are good singers and have performed in concerts and private functions.

The tai chi session is led by Wong Sie Kwong, an expert in the ancient practice of balancing the yin and yang through health-enhancing exercises.

She has led group exercises at shopping malls in Miri and been teaching senior citizens tai chi for 15 years.

A special corner for discussion and exchange of ideas at SCAC.

At the recent See Hua Group Trade Fair, a group of women dancers from the centre performed at the mall in beautiful costumes and never missed a step.

A member of the group said, “These ladies always try their best to look good. They do up their hair and make sure their costumes are immaculate. They are happy to contribute and their dedication has inspired the younger generation in Miri to take up dancing.”

Senior citizens also performed for the shoppers at the malls. The tai chi and aerobics participants and the karaoke singers contributed a few items.

Many of the shoppers came with their children to watch the show. Families of the senior citizens also turned up to lend moral support.

Lina and Alfred.

“This is one of the ways senior citizens can continue contributing to the society,” noted Wee, who worked in the Land and Survey Department before retiring and has been with the Senior Citizens Activity Centre for 15 years.

“We’re happy to support the See Hua Group event. I hope more senior citizens will join our group. The membership forms are available at the centre. You need only (provide) two photos and pay RM2 – that’s all you need to do. Every senior person over 60 can join us and enjoy the benefits,” he said.

According to Lina, the centre organises many activities. She has taken part in two tours, describing the Fellowship Tour of West Malaysia and Thailand a few years ago as most memorable.

“We had fellowship with our West Malaysian counterparts. We toured Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Northern West Malaysia, and Thailand.

“We saw how patriotic the Thais are. At midday, everyone will stand at attention when their National Anthem is played. It was an emotional moment for many of us. When I came back, I started teaching our members to sing Negaraku and Ibu Pertiwiku. We must be able to sing our national anthem and be ready to stand at attention while doing so.”

Lina said when members went for conferences, seminars, and workshops, they received certificates of attendance – which they value highly, adding, “We learn a lot when we travel as a team to events organised by the Welfare Department.”

Alfred said they tried to organise interesting programmes for members.

“We arranged for a group to go to Kuching for a conference and we got a lot of support from the state agencies. Another year, our group went to Lawas and Kota Kinabalu by bus. We got to know each other well and had a few days of good fellowship. All of us are respectful of each other’s ethnicity, customs, and religion. As a group of senior citizens, that’s exemplary. We hope to organise more activities for the old-timers to enjoy their golden years.”

Senior citizens wait to perform at a shopping mall in Miri.

The activity centre in Miri is located in one of the old buildings along Jalan Angsana, which used to be part of the old Resident’s Complex, housing the lower courts before the 70s. When the High Court building was completed, the courts were moved from the complex, leaving the building vacant for many years. Today, the activity centre is ‘home’ to many senior citizens.

One of them who had visited South Korea recalled being impressed by a group of young Koreans who voluntarily helped their senior citizens learn to use the Internet.

He said a senior activity centre could help senior citizens follow current affairs with information from WhatsApp or Facebook.

Retirees could find job opportunities when they get to know more people, especially outside the government service. Many senior citizens are still able to contribute to society in many fields. It’s also good for pensioners to remain active by working after mandatory retirement.

Many civil servants who retire at 58, can work another 10 years and their wages can accrue to a fair sum.

Service centres can help old-timers learn how to use broadband and provide them free access to computers, online training, and workshops.

It is very important now for senior citizens to be Internet-savvy. Computer workshops can help increase their confidence, skills, and online safety.

Two of the women proudly showed the flowers they planted outside the centre. One of them had a table to copy her Buddhist scriptures on, while the others were singing over the microphones.

The Miri SCAC is well maintained. Chairs are neatly arranged and equipment like treadmills, karaoke sets, TVs, and a ping pong table are available. The members make the place pleasant and homey.