Never too old to lend a hand


AFTER her retirement in March, Jayalatchumy Cumaraswamy of Seremban was looking forward to spending more time with her family and do a bit of social work too. But then, a new “job” awaited her.

She was asked to join Usiamas, a non-governmental organisation which was registered in 2002 and geared towards helping the elderly.

The request came from Syed Barkat Ali, the then president.

“I was told that I can still contribute my knowledge and skills in social matters,” says Jayalatchumy, currently president of Usiamas.

She is also adviser to its Negri Sembilan branch and helped start the “home-help” programme in the state.

“My family supports me in my voluntary work and I get my children to be involved wherever possible,” says the mother of three. She has two sons aged 24 and 23, a 20-year-old daughter who is still studying.

Jayalatchumy, 56, was formerly director of the community development division of the Department of Social Welfare Malaysia. As a social welfare officer for 30 years, she served in various capacities in five states.

She used to work with non-governmental organisations and was “touched” by the volunteers’ dedication to serving the community, even though they do not get paid.

Under Usiamas, she manages, plans and monitors the NGOs’ activities, besides training and advising the volunteers.

“I have monthly meetings and regularly visit the elderly under the home-help programme,” she says.

Volunteers look into the needs of those under their care. Jayalatchumy feels the weekly visits are timely because, given the current socio-economic situation, many old folks are forced to live alone in the village after their children head for the cities to earn a living.

“Basically, the social and emotional needs of the elderly are met by trained volunteers, while their children are away.”

She hopes that more volunteers will come forward to lend a hand to the elderly, many of whom live alone.

A founder member of Persatuan Wanita Prihatin Negeri Sembilan, set up in 2003, Jayalatchumy continues to be involved in its programmes which aim to empower women, especially single mothers.

She likes writing and has taken up an online course in cmprehensive writing with the Writers’ Bureau England.

One happy family

Pensioner Samsuri Johari, 60, joined Usiamas last November and was appointed secretary of the Negri Sembilan arm.

Previously a public health inspector with the Kuala Pilah district council, he opted out of government service in 1995 and joined Indah Water Consortium as an executive officer until 2006.

Four of his five children are university graduates. The youngest is training to be a nurse.

“It’s my dream to serve the elderly because I will grow old one day too,” says Samsuri, whose wife, Azizah Abdul Malik, is also a Usiamas member.

They hope to make other seniors happy through their community work. Besides, he thinks such work can help him “de-stress”.

Samsuri lost his parents when he was 25. “When we visit the seniors under the home-help programme, we sit, talk and listen to them. I feel as if I’m part of their family!”

He also enjoys carpentry and often uses his car porch as a workshop for a handicraft project.

Former auditor K. Sundralingam retired from government service at 55 after 30 years. He then worked in a bank for six years until 1996.

After his wife’s death in 1998, he threw himself into voluntary work.

“I keep myself busy work so that I don’t feel lonely and sad,” says Sundralingam, 76, who first joined the National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations, Malaysia (Nascom) in 1999 and served in various positions till 2005.

He feels that by engaging in voluntary work, he can serve fellow human beings and feel good about himself. He joined Usiamas in 2006 and is now the honorary secretary. Twice a week, he also volunteers at Malaysian Association for the Blind in Kuala Lumpur.

Sundralingam’s son is a dentist in London and his daughter, a tutor in computer science in New Zealand. They take turns to fly home to visit him each year.

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