With skills honed from years of home cooking and a past stint as a hawker assistant, Madam Yee Dew Eng is a natural in the kitchen.
Since moving to a new HDB flat at Cassia Crescent, however, the 79-year-old no longer cooks much as she does not have a proper kitchen in her one-room flat.
Furrowing her brow, the elderly woman told The Pride: “Without a kitchen, the smoke gets everywhere and blackens my walls. It was better in the past, when I had a proper kitchen to use.”
This may sound like a minor inconvenience to most, but to Madam Yee, it is just one of several ways her life has changed since relocating from the nearby Dakota Crescent.
After the area was primed for redevelopment in 2014, residents like Madam Yee were told to vacate homes that many of them had been living in for decades. As one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, most of the Dakota Crescent residents were elderly folks who found it hard to leave behind the comfort of memories and friendships forged through the years.
The last of them left for their new homes in end 2016, with many taking up the government’s offer of priority and buying or renting units at Block 52, Cassia Crescent. Compared to the old-world charm of Dakota Crescent, with its low-rise homes and large community spaces, the modern HDB flat is high-rise and less spacious.
The residents may also no longer live in units that are adjacent to their immediate neighbours in Dakota Crescent, adding to a sense of distance even though they live together in the same block.
Another resident who has moved to Cassia Crescent is Mr Manuel Welen. The 66-year-old recalled going to the now-defunct neighbourhood eldercare centre in Dakota Crescent often, where he would mingle with other elderly residents.
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“The neighbours would talk to me. One Chinese auntie would talk to me, and sometimes she would bring food for me. Neighbours lah, we all. Now, I don’t know where she is.”
Making comparisons to his new home, he lamented: “Some have gone to live somewhere new. I’m an old man, so I live here. Now, (my neighbours) are all new people. ”
Stepping in to fill the void for many of these elderly folks who are feeling displaced and lonely in their new homes, a team of volunteers are determined to smoothen the transition for them.
Previously known as Dakota Adventures, the Cassia Resettlement Team was a source of support for many of the residents in the months leading up to their big move. From helping the elderly folks move their life’s possessions into their new homes last year, the volunteers now continue to keep them company, helping with cleaning chores, offering them free haircuts, and even bringing them to medical appointments that they may otherwise skip or find difficult to arrange.
Speaking to The Pride, 27-year-old founder Cai Yinzhou said: “Back in Dakota Crescent, we heard many stories about how they would leave their doors open because they knew their neighbours well. Now, the corridors of Cassia Crescent are narrow. Many tell us they no longer leave their doors open, especially those who are elderly and often alone at home. They don’t dare to venture out.”
In addition to working closely with other welfare and eldercare organisations to construct a new support system for the residents, Cai also saw the importance of rebuilding resilience and the sense of togetherness that had been lost through the relocation.
So in commemoration of National Day this year, the Cassia Resettlement Team organised a cosy potluck gathering at the void deck of Block 52, where residents could reconnect with one another.
“Today’s activity is to bring the residents back together, just like how they used to hang out in Dakota Crescent. The void deck here is normally very underutilised, but the whole idea is to take them out of their homes, and into this new space so they can forge a new identity with one another.”
Singing along boisterously to old NDP songs and Teresa Teng classics, and playing simple games put together by the volunteers, there was an air of joy and community among the gathering seniors that wasn’t felt when The Pride visited a few of them in their homes not long before.
And thanks to an old neighbour who was happy to lend Madam Yee use of her kitchen, the partygoers were treated to some of her signature dishes, including chap chye, traditionally a Peranakan vegetable stir-fry.
“I won’t say that I’m a great cook. It’s good enough if people eat what I cook and say that they liked the food,” said Madam Yee with a smile.
Keen to get involved? The Cassia Resettlement Team conducts house visits and outreach initiatives to assist the residents at Block 52, Cassia Crescent. Learn more here.
Read more on the stories of relocation and transition from Dakota Crescent as told by the residents here.