Madam Varalackshmi Hariharan, a retired Principal Master Teacher, manages to stay connected with her family and friends despite Circuit Breaker measures.

Despite having to stay indoors and minimising physical contact with others because of COVID-19, Madam Varalackshmi Hariharan’s calendar is still filled with appointments.

She sweats it out during a thrice-weekly workout session with her personal trainer Darren Perera and checks in on her infant granddaughter regularly. A book club gathering is pencilled in on Mondays, and church on Sundays. She has popped into museum exhibitions, while special occasions such as birthdays are still celebrated.

She used to meet her friends regularly for dinner or visit them at their homes.
When Circuit Breaker measures kicked in, the group took their gatherings online and now meet weekly.

It’s almost business as usual for this 63-year-old retired Principal Master Teacher—just that all these activities have gone virtual.

“All my usual means of communication are gone. I miss social interactions, but technology has helped me keep in touch with my friends and family during this period. If not, I would feel really socially isolated,” says Madam Varalackshmi, who lives alone. One of her daughters lives in Australia, while the other is in America.

Technology is an integral part of Madam Varalackshmi’s life these days.
She goes online to participate in exercise classes, talk to friends and buy groceries.

During these past few months, Madam Varalackshmi has tapped on technology immensely to improve her daily life. To make this happen, she learnt how to use video conferencing tools like Zoom for virtual classes and uses WhatsApp video calls to speak with friends and family. She also started purchasing groceries online.

She recently discovered music streaming service Spotify, and has been hooked on podcasts, which she listens to as she does her chores. She even virtually babysits her infant grandchild as her daughter in Australia prepares dinner.

The new grandmother has been able to babysit her granddaughter through video calls.

"Before COVID-19 hit, I would not have gone searching for all these to keep occupied. But now, I’ve more access to services and resources than ever before."

Madam Varalackshmi considers herself to be tech-savvy, given how she easily works her laptop, smart phone and smart TV. She has come a long way since she got her first laptop back in 1998. She remembers fiddling with the device for a while as she did not know how to switch it on. Eventually, she had to call a student for help.

“That’s why I empathise with seniors who are frightened by technology. I remember so many of us, even though we were teachers, were nervous when we first used a computer,” says Madam Varalackshmi, who wants to learn how to build a website next.

As she has benefited from going digital, Madam Varalackshmi wants to help other seniors get online too. This is why she applied to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to be a Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassador—a role open to seniors who are recognised for their active IT lifestyle and efforts to encourage others to use technology to enhance their lifestyle.

She taught her older sister, who is 84, how to use WhatsApp, so that they can remain connected, especially with their other seven siblings who are spread out around the world. Previously, her sister’s only mode of communication was through a landline.

Madam Varalackshmi has taught her 84-year-old sister in Singapore how to use WhatsApp so they can connect with their other siblings who live in different countries.

“She was a bit fearful and reluctant at the start, but with practice, she became a lot more confident.”

Madam Varalackshmi believes that anyone, no matter their age, can start learning how to use technology. All they need is some encouragement and, perhaps, some help from younger people.

“Some older folk don’t want to try because they are afraid of making a mistake or appearing ignorant. But it doesn’t matter. It’s ok to ask for help.”

It is more important than ever for seniors to go digital with COVID-19 halting many activities. We can do our part to encourage our (fellow) seniors to pick up the tools and skills to help them stay connected.

Seniors, aged 50 years and above, who lead an active IT lifestyle can apply to be a Silver Infocomm Wellness Ambassador with IMDA. Singaporeans can also apply to be Digital Ambassadors at the new SG Digital Office.

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