A retired academic finds gratification in working to improve the welfare of senior citizens.
HEALTH is a major concern for an ageing population. The National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia (NACSCOM) is out to promote quality ageing with minimum suffering. It wants the elderly to enjoy good health, and hopes that people would take care of themselves from young so that they would not have to battle lifestyle diseases in old age, said Nacscom president Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh, 65.
“We need government support to provide quality healthcare to senior citizens. The main complaints among the elderly is that certain medicines are too expensive and the waiting time in hospitals is too long.
“We also hope to get public support for the poor who are unable to access quality health services,” said Soon, a retired academic who has served for more than 30 years in Universiti Malaya and Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.
Soon is the second elected president of Nacscom; the first was founding president Datuk Lum Kim Tuck. Soon came into office in May 2012. He wears many hats, and is president of the Malaysian Institute of Chemistry.
Soon also serves in the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), the Malaysian Scientific Association (MSA), and international organisations such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (FACS), and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Finances may be among the most difficult issues that seniors face. Many senior citizens do not have enough money to last them another 20 years.
“Even the younger generation faces financial constraint and some young people have problems taking care of their elderly parents. We have to look into this problem seriously as we have more and more cases of parents being abandoned by their children,” said Soon.
Besides pension and EPF, he reckons senior citizens should also look into private pension funds to save for old age.
The elderly population, Soon said, also faces inadequate support in terms of transportation, amenities for social activities, age-friendly houses and infrastructure.
“We feel Malaysia is not quite prepared for an ageing society and hope the Government will look into these problems soon,” said Soon.
He also raised the issue of quality care in old folks homes. According to Soon, many homes are poorly run and do not provide quality care and services despite the high fees charged. Soon hopes the ministry concerned would check on these homes to ensure they comply with regulations.One is never too old to learn and Nacscom truly reckons so.
“Nacscom is soliciting for support from the Government, particularly the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to promote life-long learning for senior citizens. However, our proposals have met with lukewarm support. What Nacscom is seeking is funding from the Ministry to enable senior citizens clubs and associations to conduct their own life-long learning programmes. We believe this is in line with the government policy on productive ageing,” said Soon.Nacscom is also proposing to the Government to issue a new identity card to seniors when they reach the age of 60. This card will allow the elderly to get discounts, concessions and other benefits from various organisations and companies. It will also be useful when seniors go overseas as certain countries offer them special privileges.
Soon laments that the National Advisory and Consultative Council on Senior Citizens chaired by the Women, Family and Community Development Minister, only meets once a year.
“When Nacscom brought up issues at the last meeting, these issues do not see light until the next meeting one year later!” he said.
Nevertheless, Nacscom will rally on.
“We will continue to play the role of being the voice of senior citizens in Malaysia. We are also actively promoting family values so that three generations can live happily together under one roof,” Soon added.
Nacscom, he said, is also looking at educating the younger set to prepare for old age. The younger generation should start looking into issues such as health, finance and children’s education so that they will be better prepared for the golden years.
Since assuming office, Soon said they have organised campaigns, social activities, visits and trips to various places of interest, educational programmes such as computer and language classes, singing and dancing sessions, and cooking and baking lessons.
“We want to get senior citizens organised into groups, clubs and associations so that they can enjoy quality life. We have set key performance indicators (KPIs) for ourselves so that we can achieve our goals,” said Soon.
Like all NGOs, Nacscom faces many challenges such as fund-raising to support its activities, getting government and public support, and making sure the rural and urban poor are being taken care of. Soon points out that there are senior citizens living below the poverty line in the country, and old folks who were abandoned by their children.
Nacscom operates an old folks’ home in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, which offers free food and lodging for senior citizens who have no place to go. The home has about 20 inmates.
Soon is happy to do his bit for fellow seniors. Although volunteerism means sacrificing personal and family time, Soon thinks it is time well spent. On average, Soon goes to Nacscom office twice or thrice a week.
“It depends on what matters I have to deal with. If there are things that need looking into, then I’ll be there more often. Mine is a management role that includes decision-making, planning and promotional activities. I also take part in various Nacscom activities,” he said.
Soon said people who benefit from society should also do their part to contribute to society.
“If our voluntary work helps to shape a better world for senior citizens, that is reward enough,” added Soon.