He’s 79, and a volunteer Befriender to other seniors

Mr James Koh started volunteering 50 years ago with the Brunei branch of the Red Cross (now known as the Brunei Darussalam Red Crescent Society) while he was posted in the country for work. He even stepped up to serve as its Deputy Director for two years. 

An invitation letter James received in 1974 as Deputy Director to attend a parade and first aid demonstration.  

James started out as a Nurse at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 1963. He later went on to work in the Occupational Health1 sector, that allowed him to care for others in various capacities. One of his roles saw him monitoring the safety and health of workers handling toxic substances.  

Upon his retirement 12 years ago, Mr Koh’s passion for helping others led him to volunteer with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) as a Silver Generation Ambassador2, where he got to know about Presbyterian Community Services (PCS).  

After volunteering for a few years as a fitness instructor with PCS Hannah Active Ageing Centre (AAC), its Centre Head invited him to join the Community Befriending Programme – Bukit Timah (CBP-BT). These days, James visits Hannah AAC every week.  

“During visitations, we always hope to provide consolation and happiness to the seniors. Although they often greet us with a smile and open arms, some also pour out their sorrow, anxieties and agony. Relationship issues involving relatives, challenges with helpers and caregivers, non-compliance with medication and so on,” says James. “Some seniors would request home help services such as house and spring cleaning, simple grocery, medical escort, et cetera. The joy on their faces from the help we render gives us immense pleasure and self-satisfaction.” 

At 79 years of age, James is still bursting with vibrant energy to be of assistance to others. “If I can help one person to be better off than me, I will be very happy,” says James. When asked what he meant by being better off than him, he cited an example of how he ever helped someone find a job three times.  

In James’ eyes, being able to give someone more opportunities than he ever received was an achievement and a reward for him. “You know that feeling when you see somebody smile?” 

Through giving of himself to the seniors he also feels he has received much. “I have enjoyed the spirit and warmth of my fellow befrienders. Seeing the smiles and happy faces of the seniors gave me much motivation. The support and encouragement of the organisation have also been excellent,” says James.  

“Reminiscing on the friendships sowed since my involvement with CBP-BT, coupled with many memorable experiences, gives me great satisfaction. These experiences significantly nurtured and positively impacted me when I witnessed the strong will within them as they overcome loneliness despite the family support some may have. I hope my little acts of support and friendship with them would have provided some respite for them and their caregivers,” says James.  

To quote C.S. Lewis, “In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being.” In giving of ourselves, we gain meaning and purpose in our lives. 

Perhaps James’ experiences have struck a chord with you? Has reading about his journey inspired you in some way? We would love to connect with you at willing-hands@pcs.org.sg

Special thanks to Mr James Koh, befriender since October 2018, for sharing his journey with PCS!


1 Occupational health: Working in a factory or organization where products are manufactured e.g., handling workplace, worker, processes and machines are occupational health. Such staff ensure health of the workers and the environments covering machines, supervisors, processes, health; and monitor the hazards and risks at the workplace.

2 Silver Generation Ambassadors support the ageing needs of seniors by engaging them at home and at community places. Volunteers encourage seniors to stay active, healthy, and connect them to government schemes that they can benefit from. Read more on AIC’s website here

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