Nov 01 2022 / Round the Table Magazine
Enjoy the ride (and be patient)
By Matt Pais
During the pandemic, many people realized that they took basic routines for granted when they no longer had access to them, such as being outdoors and talking to people in person. Being outside makes us feel good, and face-to-face interaction with others is important.
But it didn’t require a period where both activities were restricted for Cheng Huann Yeoh, ChFC, CLU, to see the value of the work being done by Cycling Without Age Singapore (CWAS). In 2019, the 10-year MDRT member from Singapore who helped CWAS receive a $9,500 MDRT Foundation Global Grant in 2022 — signed up himself and his team to volunteer with the organization, which provides 20- to 90-minute trishaw rides for nursing home residents who have limited time outside or contact with others.
A trishaw is a mix between a rickshaw and a bicycle, with the driver, known as a pilot, pedaling the bike from behind. One passenger is the elderly resident, and sometimes another volunteer rides along and converses with the nursing home resident. For Yeoh — who looks for a new charity each year to volunteer for — participation wasn’t just about helping people have new outdoor experiences. It was about establishing a personal connection too.
“The pilots befriend them, talk to them and understand them, while the passengers get to feel the breeze in their face,” Yeoh said, adding his excitement for the program’s mission that trains young people from troubled families as pilots to generate new, happy relationships. “It teaches empathy and how to engage people beyond your own age group.”
Then the pandemic hit in early 2020, putting a pause on, well, everything. But, like so many operations, CWAS didn’t stop. It just adapted. Virtual trishaw rides helped senior participants see beyond their residence without having to leave the building, and virtual empathy training helped prep young potential pilots. Meanwhile, Yeoh, still unable to directly volunteer, was able to connect with CWAS staff to understand what they needed and how else his team could help.
That’s how Yeoh learned about the “50 Faces” project, where CWAS volunteers ride along with their older passengers and write down the stories they hear so new pilots will already know about their passengers and can have conversations that don’t start from scratch. Once they are able, Yeoh and his team members will participate in that aspect of CWAS’ work as well.
Yeoh has, however, been able to briefly try piloting the trishaw (“It was really tough to cycle, be aware of safety and engage with others at the same time,” he said) and ride as a passenger. “I can fully understand why it can be so liberating to be on the trishaw after being stuck indoors for a while,” he said. “It made me appreciate the work that they do even more.”
Yeoh also realized a benefit that can be overlooked about this or any experience: appreciating silence. There was a period during his ride when the pilot stopped talking and just let Yeoh — who recognizes that human connection and community involvement became more difficult for people of any age in an increasingly digital world — enjoy the ride and the view.
“I could feel the calm that happens when you have your own space to appreciate things around you,” Yeoh said. “In terms of mental health, it does wonders to not just be engaged in storytelling but also have silent moments to feel gratitude in your own space.”
What MDRT Foundation grant money is being used for
The MDRT Foundation grant helps CWAS fund the trishaws and secure storage facilities for the vehicles. The funds also go toward expanding the virtual trishaw rides for those who can’t travel out of their homes and connect with national parks to find new spaces in which to ride. In addition, CWAS can increase their outreach to organizations helping at-risk youth to foster new connections with potential pilots.