Through volunteering and sponsorship programs, Happy Grannies is helping the elderly reconnect with their respective communities.
by Portia Ladrido
When setting up an organisation to further a cause, most beneficiaries usually involve the youth. After all, improving the future of the young, vulnerable population is an exemplary task that many visionaries would want to be involved in. But as everyone’s focus is set to the liberation of children or the education of the youth, there’s a group that sits quietly in the background, waiting to be heard – the elders.
The cultural invisibility of the elders is not an uncommon phenomenon. This is why Sindy Chow, founder of Happy Grannies, pursued her mission. “Many volunteers would rather go to visit orphanages and visit kids rather than the elders. I think it’s not fair to our elders as I’d like to believe the grannies are our gems,” she explained.
Chow’s brainchild commenced eight years ago. Due to a highly stressful job in Hong Kong, she went to look for other outlets and stumbled upon a social entrepreneurship workshop. She found it interesting especially with her business experiences in the past and thought it would be a waste of an idea if she didn’t give it a shot.
“I joined a competition through that workshop and I wrote about 200 words about the ageing population, and how we can address the elderly issue. Within those 200 words, I included that I wanted to line up volunteering teams to pay continued visit to single elders in need,” she said.
Today, the organisation runs through three schemes. One is the sponsorship package wherein people who want to help could just give contributions. Another is the time package where they ask the volunteer to visit and spend time with the single elders. And the last package is the combination of the two. Most visits include volunteers bringing in groceries and engaging elders into meaningful conversations.
According to a report by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s elderlies are among the poorest populations in the city and in the developed world. The report also included the data from the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, which showed that 1/3 of the people aged 65 and over are classified as poor.
Chow agreed that it is a concern that not a lot of people are aware of. When she started Happy Grannies, she said in jest that it was because she’s a middle-aged, single woman that could very well be a Happy Granny herself in the future. “Very often, and when you’re having a startup, normally, you will think about your own self. If you can relate to it then you will have the drive to go forward, to address the issue.”
But as she saw how the single elders’ spirits are uplifted with every visit, she knew she wanted to do everything she can to help them better the remaining years of their lives. She even reached out to big corporations such as Starbucks and Disneyland and to her surprise, countless help has been showered to her by these hotshot organisations.
“For Disneyland, they supported us from day one until last year. They sent 10 teams to be volunteers. It’s very good. They have a philanthropic culture in Disneyland so it had been really good to have them. With Starbucks, it lasted for just 6 months. It was difficult because their employees need to work on a shift basis. It’s difficult for them to form teams to visit elders. I can understand that,” she said.
In the years she’s been running Happy Grannies, Chow said that the biggest challenge has been trying to recruit long-term, committed volunteers as it’s not ideal for a volunteer to start visiting an elderly and stopping all of a sudden; it could take a toll on the elderly, especially that deep attachments could have been fostered.
Nevertheless, Chow said that she’s tremendously grateful for the volunteers that have given their time, money, and efforts to making Happy Grannies what it is today.
“I come across different kinds of people from different walks of life who are willing to contribute a lot of their time to take care of the grannies. At the end of the day, I’m always moved by what they do for the grannies.”
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.