Photo by Happy People Helping People Photo by Happy People Helping People

Caring for Elderly Cardboard Collectors

At 82 years old, Mdm Aw works as a cardboard collector to support herself. 

She trawls the neighbourhood of Whampoa daily for discarded cardboard boxes from dumpsters, wet markets and hawker centres. When she has gathered enough, Mdm Aw lugs her haul of cardboard boxes ¬– often as heavy as 20kg to 30kg – on a trolley and walks all the way to Toa Payoh to sell them. 

For her efforts, she earns about $2 each time.  
   
It was on one of her collection rounds that Mdm Aw bumped into Mohammad Nafiz Kamarudin, founder of Happy People Helping People (HPHP).

Nafiz shares, “When we first asked [Mdm Aw] why she was collecting boxes, she told us, ‘I want to exercise.’ After we have befriended and supported her for some time, she finally confessed and shared, ‘How can I tell people that my own son is not taking care of me?’”

With Nafiz’s help, Mdm Aw can now be assured of at least one meal a day through the volunteer-based HPHP project.

Founded in 2013, HPHP currently cares for more than 250 elderly beneficiaries across six estates in Singapore – Little India, Toa Payoh, Chinatown, Geylang, Bedok and Ang Mo Kio. These beneficiaries are aged from late 50s to 90s. Most of them are devoid of family support and earn a living by working as cardboard collectors. 

Meal Sponsorships, Grocery Vouchers and Outings

HPHP’s mission is simple – to ensure the elderly are not deprived of basic physical and emotional needs. This means ensuring they have access to food and friendship. One of their key initiatives is the free meal programme, which sees HPHP partnering eateries in their targeted estates.

How it works: Beneficiaries go to a selected economy rice stall within their estate to claim 31 meals over a period of a month. Each beneficiary is issued a card with a unique QR code. All they need to do is to show the stall owner their card and get it scanned in exchange for a free meal. 

Each time the QR code is scanned, the data will be recorded. At the end of the month, HPHP will pay the amount owed to the stalls. According to Nafiz, HPHP sees more than $10,000 worth of meals claimed every month.

The meal cards are distributed every first Sunday of the month at strategically selected locations that are close to trucks or stores that purchase cardboard boxes. Termed “Happy Sundays”, these sessions see volunteers delivering not only meal cards and daily necessities to their elderly beneficiaries, but also joy. 

In addition, HPHP distributes NTUC vouchers to each elderly beneficiary, and organises recreational outings on a monthly basis. To date, excursions to key attractions such as Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Gardens By The Bay, and Sentosa among many others have been made – outings that many of these elderly beneficiaries will not have been able to afford.

Nafiz added that hoarding is a common issue among their elderly beneficiaries. He says, “Some of them suffer from dementia, which makes things worse. They forget about the things they have already collected, and collect more things the following day. Needless to say, these flats are often infested with cockroaches, bed bugs and even rats.

“Once, we had to help one of our beneficiaries open the door to her flat, because it was jammed from behind due to the mountain of trash in her flat.”

This is one of the reasons why HPHP encourages the distribution of cooked food, canned drinks and NTUC vouchers to their elderly beneficiaries. Nafiz shared that items such as rice, condiments and canned food often end up being unused and hoarded by their recipients at home.

82-year-old cardboard collector Mdm Aw (extreme left) is able to enjoy at least one free meal a day, thanks to Happy People Helping People founded by Mohammad Nafiz Kamarudin (in white t-shirt). Photo by Happy People Helping People

A group of nurses from Tan Tock Seng Hospital decided to spend their day off distributing daily necessities to HPHP’s elderly beneficiaries. Photo by Happy People Helping People

HPHP also organises outings to key attractions for its elderly beneficiaries. Photo by Happy People Helping People

How You Can Help


Support HPHP through three simple ways:


1. Gather your family, friends and/or colleagues to form or join a volunteer team. There is no limit to the number of volunteers in each team. (Some of the volunteers even bring their children along to help out!) Each team will contribute and distribute cooked food, canned drinks and NTUC vouchers for at least 30 pax. A Happy Sunday session typically lasts one to two hours.

2. Donate in kind. Unable to be physically present for a Happy Sunday session? You can arrange to drop off items such as cooked food, canned drinks or NTUC vouchers.

3. Volunteer your time and skills! Whether it’s helping the seniors with haircuts, trimming their nails or entertaining them with performances, no effort is too small. Or, simply turn up to help distribute the items and be a befriender.

Want to be a part of Happy Sundays? Visit HPHP’s Facebook page to get updates and details, or to send them a message to express your interest.

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