The sight of an old and frail elderly person collecting cardboard never fails to move people. After all, we are people of compassion. So it was that when a story was posted of a tired, elderly cardboard collector almost knocked down by a Porsche SUV, it went viral.
In his Facebook post on Monday (Dec. 7), Vladimir Guevarra described it as a ‘juxtaposition – an old, bent woman, and a rich man in a luxury car, oblivious of her presence’.
“I was stunned over how big her stack was, and I wondered how much – or how little – money she’d get for re-selling that, presumably, to a recycling shop. I approached her just to check she’s ok. Boy, she looked tired. I gave her the cash in my pocket and told her to have some dinner,” he wrote.
He ended his post with “SG friends, in case you see her, perhaps social services can help (?) She looked too old, and shouldn’t be doing this. #richpoordivide”
Why wait for others to do it?
Social services can and will help. But why wait for others to do it? Right there and then the opportunity presented itself to Vladimir to befriend the woman and to link her up with social services. That’s the responsibility of every citizen who cares. There are elderly people who may be ignorant of the social support available to them. Each one of us can be the bridge linking them to social services.
Had Vladimir done so, he would have made a difference to one person’s circumstances.
The easier way, of course, is to post on Facebook – to ‘raise awareness’, as some would say.
Even Prof Tommy Koh and Ivan Heng had something to say.
With due respect to Prof Koh, this is a very superficial way to make a conclusion about inequality in Singapore. In every country, there will be the very rich, the very poor, and all the in-betweens. Probably the only place where you will not see a rich man driving a Porsche SUV and a poor woman collecting cardboard next to him is North Korea.
But we have enough people raising such issues on social media. What we need are people who will put their money where their mouth is.
It’s not always what you think it is
Following the post by Vladimir, Mummy Yummy decided to search for the elderly woman to find out her circumstances. Mummy Yummy needs little introduction. Doing good is their mission.
It turns out that Madam Cha – for that’s her name – is collecting cardboards to pass time and exercise while getting a small income from it. It’s hard for some people to accept this because they just cannot comprehend that someone old and frail would do this to pass time. It does not fit in with their worldview.
Vladimir himself wrote, “Are you guys telling me that septuagenarians and octogenarians, in their declining health, would very much rather bend, pick, lift, and push, repeatedly, sometimes under the heat of the sun, sometimes in the rain or drizzle, manoeuvring through vehicular traffic, rather than stay home during COVID, read books, or play with or teach their grandchildren?”
It’s time we respect the elderly amongst us, the septuagenarians and octogenarians. These elderly people have their own views and their own preferred ways. This is the pioneer generation made of grit and backbone. They live a different and tough life.
Years ago, when my grandma came to visit, I gave her a nice soft pillow to use. She tossed and turned for a long time, unable to fall asleep. Eventually she asked, “What kind of thing is this that is so uncomfortable?” And she tossed it away. All her life, she had used a small stool for a pillow. The moral of the story is: do not impose your preferred worldview on others.
Mdm Cha is being taken care of by her son. She also receives financial support through the Silver Support Scheme which pays up to $3,600 a year for those in 1- and 2-room flats.
Respect the privacy of the elderly
We should respect the privacy of the elderly and their freedom to do their own thing. We should not freely post their photos on social media based on our own assumptions. It is better to ascertain their needs and circumstances and do what is right for them. Often, it is not what you think it is. Like this next story: the auntie is not rummaging in the rubbish bin for bread to eat. She is collecting the bread to feed the birds in the temple.