Advocate, blogger, grandmother and lifelong learner Lily Fu speaks to Priya Kulasagaran about what it means to stay active in your later years.
“Two keywords have always governed my life – passion and compassion,” says Lily Fu, 69. That, in a nutshell, explains the former teacher’s attitude towards not just life, but also her work in being an advocate for active ageing.
Fu is the founder of Seniors Aloud, a community platform for senior citizens to learn more about issues that concern them, as well as connect with like-minded souls. While primarily based online, the group regularly carries out activities and events that focus on life-long learning and community work.
Fu explains that Seniors Aloud started with her first blog post in May 2008. “I became a senior and saw first-hand the issues and gaps faced by people my age,” she says. “I decided to start a community, and do what I can to help – the motivation was to start something, and slowly spread the word about it.”
Among the main issues Seniors Aloud wants to address is getting senior citizens into the digital age and encouraging more avenues for older adults to pick up new skills. With the latter cause, Fu points out that many older adults are increasingly unable to retire. “We may need to dig into our savings for our own parents, or even our children – and things are getting more expensive as well. I think entrepreneurship is a great skill to teach senior citizens; but many retraining opportunities are closed to us. We want to take care of ourselves, so help us do that,” she says.
Lifelong learning and community involvement
Another factor Fu credits the beginnings of Seniors Aloud to is her love for lifelong learning. A testament to this is her active involvement with Universiti Putra Malaysia’s University of the Third Age (U3A), an institution dedicated to lifelong learning amongst older adults. Based within the university’s premises in Serdang, U3A regularly holds non-degree courses on subjects ranging from computing to cooking, to even entrepreneurship. She is also currently considering going back to school for a second master’s degree.
“I guess it’s the same excitement as children feel, when they discover the world around them,” says Fu, when explaining her curiosity and desire to learn. “Please get rid of that phrase ‘too old’ – otherwise you become a dinosaur! If I can get a few seniors to change their mindset (to try new things) – that’s what keeps me going.”
Seniors Aloud also does its part in giving back to the community through its Grant A Wish for the Elderly fund. The fund is specially allocated for older adults who need some extra support with necessities, such as medical treatment or even tools to help them with their work. Fu offers an example of the sort of beneficiary the fund seeks to help.
“We were introduced to a hawker who had terminal cancer. Since she could no longer work, she was worried about her three sons. Her eldest son was in university on a scholarship, with one more semester left to complete. So we stepped in to pay their rental for 10 months; that gave the son time to graduate and find a job to continue supporting the family,” says Fu.
While potential beneficiaries of the fund will be vetted to determine how genuine their needs are, Fu adds that the fund will help in whatever way possible. “If say a senior needs to start a business, and has no money for a computer – let us know. Or if they need a wheelchair, or even if they thinking of taking a course to learn new skills to find work, we’re willing to help,” she says.
Living by example
Despite her work on active aging, and being hands-on grandmother of five, Fu has a constant buzz of energy about her at all times. This zest for life is not just reflected in her passion of exploring the world and constant quest to learn new things, but also in the way she keeps physically fit.
It is a simple fitness regime – walking and relying on public transportation instead of driving for the past 16 years. “My strength training is carrying groceries,” she says with a laugh. “I live on the third floor of a low-rise apartment, with no lift; so I go up and down the stairs several times a day – that’s my exercise. I don’t take any any supplements, and try to as natural possible – lots of walking, fresh air, and sunlight.”
Fu believes that there are several main pillars for successive ageing; health, finances, volunteerism; lifelong learning; and relationships. “All of these need to be balanced for a good life,” she says. “In fact, I’d add one more pillar – having an ‘anchor’ or belief system. This could be religion for some people, or a values system for others. This belief system is important, because without it, otherwise there will be no integrity in what you do.”
She adds that maintaining healthy emotions is also crucial for living a fulfilling life. Having raised two children as a single parent, and then acting as a caregiver for her own mother, her own bright disposition was something hard earned. “II learnt to not take too many things to heart,” she says. “If you hold bitterness in your heart, the only person who suffers is you; it was an epiphany when I realised this. Bitterness is toxic, and it was a huge load off my shoulders when I let go of these bad feelings.”
If you wish to get in touch with Seniors Aloud or participate in any of their activities, go to www.seniorsaloud.blogspot.com.