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Singaporean youths start ground-up project to combat social isolation in the elderly

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Hey, You Got Mail! enables members of the public to send messages to the elderly for free.

Who would have known that a game of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) would result in a ground-up initiative that helps prevent loneliness as a result of social isolation? 

A group of 20-year-olds were having a discussion during the circuit breaker over a PUBG game on what were some things they could send each other. As they discussed how handmade cards were quite meaningful gifts to receive, Jaslyn Muk, Triston Tan and Joanne Yep thought it would be nice to send some to the elderly. 

Jaslyn, who would become the group's director of publicity, said: "We felt that social isolation (among the elderly) is hardly talked about, so we wanted to do something about it. 

"Personally, even with my family members around, I felt very moody and restless as I couldn't meet my friends. We thought about how much worse the seniors staying alone would feel." The three of them roped in the rest of their PUBG friends, Tan Wei Lin, Advait Barat Deshpande and Park Jiwon in April and kick-started Hey, You got Mail! 

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Jaslyn was introduced to the rest of them, who knew each other during Junior College, over PUBG.
PHOTO CREDIT: HEY, YOU GOT MAIL! 

Empathy for the elderly 

To get started, Triston reached out to nursing homes and asked if they wanted to be beneficiaries of their project. The team then obtained a grant from Temasek Trust and used the base fund to buy raw materials such as cards and decorative items. 

As part of this project, members of the public can opt to write messages on a Google form for a senior free-of-charge, which will be handwritten by volunteers and sent out to nursing homes. 

Alternatively, people can write a message to a friend or family member for $2, which enables Hey, You Got Mail! to send another card to a senior residing in a nursing home. 

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These messages are handwritten and mailed out individually.
PHOTO CREDIT: HEY, YOU GOT MAIL! 

As to why they chose snail mail over other options such as phone calls or video calls, Jaslyn said: "The feeling of receiving a letter or card in the mail is very heart-warming and we hope to remind seniors that there's someone thinking of them." 

The public can also volunteer their time to write these cards for the seniors. 

Currently, Hey, You Got Mail! has over 100 members in their online broadcast group. Volunteer sessions usually see up to 10 people from all walks of life coming down to write cards to bring joy to the elderly in nursing homes. 

Heart-warming stories affirm the team's vision 

Because of restrictions, the team was unable to head to the nursing homes and give the seniors the cards personally. They thus asked the staff for pictures and videos of the seniors' reactions. 

A staff member told them about a particular senior who displays erratic and unpredictable behaviour. But upon receiving the card, the senior calmed down significantly, which is something the staff member did not expect. 

Jaslyn said that such stories made the project very fulfilling. Another instance involved one of their volunteers at their fortnightly volunteer card writing sessions, a secondary school student, who came on her own. 

"The day after (volunteering) was her examination, yet she chose to spend the time volunteering instead and that touched me," said Jaslyn. 

Deepening the interaction with the elderly in Singapore 

Besides their main project, the team also came up with Story For A Story, a project in collaboration with local bookstore BooksActually to collect and share stories of people's treasured memories with seniors in the community. 

They hope to inspire the public to reflect on their own experiences and, in turn, reach out to a senior they care about. 

Jaslyn hopes that even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the team can continue to spread awareness about their cause and have people in the community to reach out to seniors. 

"It may be a bit difficult to continue this long term… but I'm fortunate to have these five people in the team. We are able to complement each other and it's a dream team. I'm fortunate that (the project) managed to get this far." 

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: HEY, YOU GOT MAIL!

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