Hop on a joyride this Grandparents Day

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

✦ Grandparents Day was first instituted in 1978 in the United States when President Jimmy Carter signed it into law, designating the first Sunday of September for the celebrations.

This article is contributed by Yong Shan Juan

Since 1979, Singapore has taken the inspiration from the United States by setting the fourth Sunday of November (this year, it will be 28th November) to honour one’s grandparents.

Prior to COVID-19, Grandparents Day celebrations in Singapore used to be large scale community events. They were mainly organised by grassroots organisations and charities that support causes for the family and seniors. The events would include visits to local attractions and parks, holding carnivals and group activities that encourage intergenerational participation - for example, kite flying, picnics.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, organisations have gone online to conduct workshops on making gifts and cards to express one’s appreciation to grandparents. Home delivery of grandparents’ favourite food would be a fail-proof option, or a simple call to wish them “Happy Grandparents Day!” on the day itself would make their day.

Outing with grandparents is still an option for the family but within the current regulation of conducting outdoor activity in pairs, including dining in. However, there is still a unique treat for grandparents that is worth exploring – a joy ride for the seniors on a trishaw.

Why the trishaw?

For this part of the world, especially in Singapore, the trishaw was the ubiquitous and affordable mode of public transport since the late 19th century. From the man-pull rickshaw of old to the present day foot-pedal trishaw, every senior especially the current cohort of elderly would have ridden on a trishaw; if not regularly, at least once or several times in their lifetime. A trishaw ride will evoke memories of life in their early years.

Cycling Without Age (CWA)

To understand about the idea of offering free rickshaw rides to seniors (trishaw in Singapore context), we need to look to Denmark. Ole Kassow, a cycling enthusiast, had a serendipitous encounter with an elderly man, Thorkild Thim, a resident of a nursing home in his neighbourhood in Copenhagen. For two weeks, Ole saw him seated at a bench with his walking frame morning after morning, enjoying the outdoors.

Ole Kassow’s encounter with Thorkild Thim (seated) inspired him to start and pilot Cycling Without Age into a global movement, featured on Brilliant-Online

Ole Kassow’s encounter with Thorkild Thim (seated) inspired him to start and pilot Cycling Without Age into a global movement. Image source: Cycling Without Age.

While flipping through photos of old Copenhagen in the 1930s which captured hordes of cyclists on the road, it occurred to Ole that cycling would have been Thorkild’s daily mode of transport then, and he likely enjoyed cycling too.

So, Ole thought that it might be possible to let seniors such as Thorkild experience cycling again with a crazy new idea – taking them on rickshaw joyrides!

The first person to try Ole’s new idea was a senior in a local nursing home, Gertrude, and one of the home’s staff member. On Gertrude’s request, he brought her to the Lenelegad Broadwalk at Copenhagen Harbourfront. This famous harbourfront had been an intimate part of Gertrude’s early life and held special and precious memories for Gertrude which she shared with Ole.

“After an hour, I felt like I had almost a magical bond with a stranger Gertrude. It almost felt as if I have been on a time journey with her,” Ole marvelled.

The next day, he had a call from the manager of the nursing home questioning him what he had done to Gertrude. The manager subsequently explained how Gertrude was transformed after the ride and the rest of the residents wanted to ride too.

Ole shared how the rides “…gave them (the residents) a whole new mobility, and gave me an insight to my city that I have never experienced.”

Ole would never have imagined the impact of a simple ride on an elderly resident, nor the subsequent floodgate of requests, interest and participation from all walks of life.

Support from city authorities poured in and coverage by the media stirred up a storm of cohesion across all spectrum of age, ability and background. A national movement of kindness was sparked and people rallied in funding and organising more trips.

New communities of care and share were formed, reaching and touching lives. Through cycling, whether in ferrying others or being ferried on the humble rickshaw, ordinary folks found purpose, passion, connection, empowerment.

Ole thus founded Cycling Without Age in Denmark. That was in 2012. Today, CWA has spread and been adopted in 50 countries across the globe.

Hear more of this inspiring and catalytic act of humanity from Ole himself where he chronicled his journey of engaging, enriching and enlivening lives through CWA Cycling without age | Ole Kassow | TEDxCopenhagenSalon - YouTube

Gayl Tan - Making a difference through cycling

In Singapore, we chatted with Gayl Tan, aged 63, who volunteers with various senior care centres and nursing homes.

Trained as a trishaw cyclist with Singapore chapter of Cycling Without Age, Gayl has been supporting the cause in earnest. Since March this year, she has clocked six trips, and counting, whenever the COVID-19 situation in Singapore permits.

Longevity Ambassador, Gayl with a client cruising along a park connector, featured on Brilliant-Online
Longevity Ambassador, Gayl with a client cruising along a park connector.

Gayl enthused: “In the one-hour ride, the seniors and their loved ones get to enjoy quality time. For these seniors, they can explore a new place in Singapore or revisit old places which have been refreshed or rebuilt. We get really great conversations as the seniors reminisce memories of old or trade stories of personal experiences and encounters. For some, they simply soak in the sights and sounds of the surrounds in companionable silence. It is very satisfying to be able to engage with folks from different walks of life and hear their stories.”

Gayl lives by the motto "always find time for things that make you happy". She is the main caregiver to her 88-year-old mother with severe eye impairment and a 70-year-old sister who is bedridden with advanced stage Alzheimer’s disease. Despite her caregiving responsibilities, she still finds pockets of time to destress, through exercising and volunteering.