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The Ride to Freedom

Features 02 Sep 2020

(Uncle Ramakrishnan’s first virtual trishaw ride. Photo credit: Temasek) 

Most residents in nursing homes are wheelchair-bound or have mobility issues. This means that they are unable to go outdoors to enjoy nature as they please, and are unable to socialise freely with the wider community. Unfortunately, this prolonged disconnect with the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately breeds feelings of loneliness in our seniors.

“Regardless of mobility, nursing home residents should be able to connect with the community. This fuels us to work extra hard to bring seniors out and make them feel like part of the community again.” —Addie Elicano, General Manager, Cycling Without Age Singapore

Cycling Without Age Singapore (CWA) envisions a world where the elderly do not have to suffer social isolation, but instead have regular opportunities to feel the sun and a cool breeze on their hair. To date, CWA has enabled senior citizens residing in nursing homes to enjoy more than 10,000 free trishaw rides in various parks around Singapore. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put such activities to a grinding halt due to safe-distancing measures.

As the elderly are at higher risk of developing health complications if infected with COVID-19, face-to-face volunteer activities in nursing homes and senior care centres have been suspended indefinitely. Seniors not only miss regular social interactions with family and friends, they have also lost their freedom to go outdoors.

Instead of accepting the situation and putting their mission on hold, CWA swiftly adapted to the new normal and came up with a brilliant strategy. If they couldn’t bring the elderly into the community, they would bring the community to the elderly. They quickly joined forces with Mind Palace – a company that specialises in customised Virtual Reality (VR) technology to create a variety of immersive experiences. CWA was able to tap Mind Palace’s VR technological know-how to kickstart Project Virtual Trishaw Rides.

All the non-profit organisation needed was funding support to pull the project together. The team applied to the oscar@sg fund and were subsequently awarded a grant that allowed them to set the gears in motion. Project Virtual Trishaw Rides will soon launch the pilot programme with four nursing homes – Jamiyah Nursing Home, MWS Yew Tee Nursing Home, Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home Yishun, and Sree Narayana Mission Senior Care Centre Woodlands.

For Uncle Ramakrishnan, who has not been able to step out of his nursing home since April, it was very exciting to be one of the first few to experience a virtual ride during the initial trial. He enjoyed the immersive experience thoroughly and couldn’t stop singing its praises. Uncle even asked for virtual experiences to “visit” attractions such as the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, and even South Korea. It is heartwarming to see how a cool idea can create so much joy for an elderly like Uncle Ramakrishnan. The CWA team is keen to explore the potential for the initiative to extend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even beyond COVID-19, the virtual trishaw rides will be a great opportunity for bedridden seniors to see the Singapore they have helped to build.” — Addie Elicano