02 Jun 2017
If you’ve ever been on crutches or a wheelchair for even a short period of time, you’ll know that getting a glass of water, cooking a meal, much less getting out of the house, is challenging and can be very frustrating. For the physically challenged, this is something they go through everyday. And what happens when their wheelchair breaks down?
A volunteer in the MASTC workshop fixing a wheelchair.
In this day and age where mobility is so easily achieved with just a touch of a button, we forget that the physically challenged, such as the elderly, the injured and the sick, or the disabled, get left behind.
This is where Mobility Aids Services & Training Centre (MASTC), a project of Kampung Senang Charity & Education Foundation, comes in. They provide various types of affordable mobility aids to the needy by servicing and repairing used or donated equipment.
Senior Manager of the centre, Kelvin Chan, who spends most of his days helping his clients “move forward”, shares about some of the urgent needs of the community.
Q: What is the one thing you hope more will understand about MASTC?
Kelvin: Some people see us as a repair station, and others see us as “Karang Guni” because we take in all these used equipment and mobility devices.
Volunteer working on a wheelchair in the workshop, surrounded by tools and spare-parts.
But it’s more than that. We want people to know that it’s as much about the concept of eco-consciousness as it is about passing on mobility aids to those who need it most. By increasing the lifespan of devices like wheelchairs and loaning them out, we minimise waste, and help improve the quality of lives for the less fortunate.
The centre is a small, cramped office and workshop space, with piles and piles of spare parts. In this sense, we take care of our environment as well as the community.
Q: How does MASTC help the community?
Kelvin: We started 10 years ago, and we provide four main services.
First, we collect used mobility aids like wheelchairs, crutches and electrical beds. Any mobility device that you might need when discharged from the hospital, we have it!
A line-up of wheelchairs outside MASTC belonging to clients, waiting to be fixed, with more around the void deck.
We also provide repair services for mobility aids, especially to the needy and low-income families who cannot afford new wheelchairs, nor have the tools and knowledge to fix them. Wheelchairs with proper usage usually last a year without maintenance, and like a car, regular maintenance keeps the system healthy and prolongs its lifespan.
Third, we loan out these equipment. Our clients might need aids for a short time or longer, like an electrical bed if they can’t move, or a walking frame for those too frail to walk independently.
Not many know this, but we also provide basic mobility aid servicing and maintenance training to volunteers.
Q: Who in the community needs the most help from MASTC?
Kelvin: Mostly the elderly. Demand is increasing due to our rapidly aging population. And if they are from low income families, there is little help out there for them.
There was a particular case of a 92 year old lady who used to be a domestic worker. One day, I received a call from her caretakers that her doctor recommended an electrical bed and oxygen concentrator, and she needed them on that very same day. I rushed down to the centre from another and got the equipment transported to her house with the help of an outsourced mover as quickly as I could
I later got a call from her caretakers who thanked me, as she was finally able to breathe properly after receiving the equipment. It was quite shocking when you think, what would happen if the equipment arrived any later?
During cases like these, we feel satisfied that we’ve done something to help. Yes, it may be close to a 24/7 kind of job but it’s worth it and it’s rewarding.
Q. What are the challenges faced by the centre?
Kelvin: We get clients from walk-ins, phone calls, hospitals, emails or through social workers. Those referred to us by social workers urgently need help, but the challenge is that we cannot keep up with the high number of requests and repair jobs that come in everyday!
We get many calls from the wheel-chair bound or bed-bound, who can’t move and urgently need their mobility devices fixed. They do get very frustrated and emotional over the phone, as they cannot move or even get themselves food or drink. Our heart goes out to them and we try our best to prioritise and take care of them.
It’s rewarding when you know that every little bit of effort does help.
It’s times like these, when our clients get very angry over the phone, where we have to encourage our teammates. We try our best to empathise and help our clients understand that we are doing our best. It is also important that as social workers, we have to be both emotionally and physically well. Over time, your patience will definitely improve while working here!
Q. How many volunteers to you have?
We have around 30 to 50 volunteers, and we are very grateful for their help! Some of them have been with us for up to 10 years now.
The “Ladies Team” are a group of women volunteers who come to fix wheelchairs at MASTC every Wednesday.
With the Chinese radio playing in the background, the ladies get to work.
Our regulars come weekly. For example, we have a “Ladies Team” who volunteer every Wednesday morning. We are grateful that they choose to spend their day repairing wheelchairs at our void deck area!
The volunteers wipe perspiration from their foreheads as they maintain and service the wheelchairs at the open-air void deck by the centre.
We also have a Saturday group of volunteers who are mostly working professionals. There are businessmen, student volunteers, and even engineers.
Volunteers busy going back and forth from homes to the centre to perform pick-ups, drop-offs and servicing.
During alternate months, our volunteers also come together with their tools to help the elderly from Senior Activity Centres service their wheelchairs.
Q: What inspires your volunteers?
Some of our volunteers come to us because their loved ones needed mobility aid servicing in the past. For our other volunteers, they share that it is a great way to keep their minds active.
While you are repairing a wheelchair, you actually need to process the steps in your mind. You have to dismantle and put it back in sequence, and remember all the small steps you took in between!
Filing nails in the workshop.
nd, if the parts are missing, you need to find new or alternate parts or even a more creative solution to fix the problem!
It’s also the fact that you sometimes have to apply various skills to fix one wheelchair. For example, how to replace tyres or sew new seats using sewing machines.
Some of the ladies sewing and cutting cloth to use as rags for cleaning.
Q: Why pick-up the skill of maintaining and servicing wheelchairs?
Kelvin: My most rewarding moment was when I spent four straight hours to dismantle, clean and assemble a wheelchair all by myself! Even though the wheelchair was very dirty and rusty, I was very happy!
Kelvin Chan, Senior Manager of MASTC, telling us their story behind the centre.
Learning the art of mobility aid servicing can take as short as a few hours if you have some technical or engineering knowledge. But mastering the art takes time…
We also find that volunteers who come with an open mind-set, actually pick-up the skill much quicker. Many of our volunteers, like our “Ladies Team”, have no prior knowledge of how to fix wheelchairs. But they can now fix wheelchairs on their own! We use only simple hand tools and it is not too difficult to learn.
With a willing heart, open mind and able hands, there are useful skills to learn here.
One inspiring fact is that one of our volunteers actually has mild Parkinsons and has been volunteering with us for two months now!
Q: What is the best way to help?
Kelvin: Besides volunteering, one can also help through donations. We channel them into buying spare parts for repairing and servicing wheelchairs. All the parts, like the tyres and tools which you see in our workshop, are bought in bulk.
Tools hanging around the workshop.
The money is also used for different operation costs like the transportation of mobility devices from our client’s house. For example the transportation of an electrical bed, which is quite large, needs to be outsourced.
There are also costs like rent and electricity which really add up, we do not receive government funding, yet there’s a lot more to be done.
How to Give Back to the Physically Challenged, Starting 27 May
Through technology and interactive workshops, Frasers Centrepoint Malls aims to raise public awareness about the mobility challenges and frustrations the less fortunate such as the elderly and disabled face on a daily basis. The initiative also seeks to empower commuters and shoppers to give back by booking a ride through Grab for a good cause or learning the art of wheelchair refurbishment.
Grab a Goodwill Ride to Frasers
Starting 27 May, commuters across the island can do their part for the physically challenged by booking a ride through Grab to any of the 12 malls under Frasers Centrepoint Malls using the promo code “FrasersGoodwill”. Commuters will enjoy $2 off their fare. In return for their support, Frasers Centrepoint Malls will donate the total value of all supported rides to beneficiaries of MASTC and the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD).
Making Old Wheels New Again
In an effort to build a more inclusive and well-equipped community, shoppers can pick up the art of mobility aids repair and maintenance at training sessions conducted by MASTC. The training sessions are part of the effort to raise awareness about the plight of the less fortunate who are unable to purchase new mobility devices.
MASTC will be holding roadshows at Waterway Point (27 May), Causeway Point (11 June), and YewTee Point (18 June) to inspire the public to volunteer, acquire used or unwanted mobility aids, and train caregivers in maintaining wheelchairs for their loved ones. Each trainee will also receive a tool kit to bring home.
In addition, shoppers can show their support during the charity round of the “$300,000 Word Dash” launch at Waterway Point on 27 May, where beneficiaries of SPD and representatives from MASTC take on a word puzzle challenge. The total amount raised during the charity rounds will be matched dollar for dollar by Frasers Centrepoint Malls and donated to the beneficiaries.
While the donations distributed to MASTC will be used for a variety of operational costs such as the purchase of tools and spare parts, as well as for transportation and rental, donations distributed to SPD will be channeled into the purchasing of new wheelchairs for their beneficiaries. SPD focuses on helping people with disabilities maximise their potential and integrating them into mainstream society. SPD serves more than 5,000 people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities, helping them become self-reliant and independent.
More details about the campaign and activities can be found at www.FrasersCentrepointMalls.com.