TO SAY Madam Chan Kieu has green fingers would be an understatement. As one of 60 National Parks Board (NParks) Community in Bloom (CIB) Ambassadors, she has been applying her gardening skills as a passionate and dedicated volunteer for 11 years.
The 76-year-old has been active in Jurong Central Zone D Residents’ Committee (RC) activities since she was 48. In 2005, she began volunteering with NParks when Madam Kamisah Atan, the chairperson of the Jurong Central Zone D RC Gardening Club and a fellow CIB Ambassador, invited her to be part of the CIB programme.
The sprightly senior was selected and recognised as a CIB ambassador in 2015 for spreading her love for gardening and going above and beyond in helping others to enjoy gardening. Madam Chan regularly hosts garden visits and roadshows to reach out to fellow gardening enthusiasts, other senior citizens as well as young children. She also serves as a mentor and role model to those who are new to gardening.
The roots of Madam Chan’s love for gardening go back to her kampong days in Lim Chu Kang where she and her family had a small farm growing vegetables and raising chickens. Though they were not wealthy, she remembered everyone being very happy.
“We all led simple and contented lives back in our kampong days,” Madam Chan said with a smile.
These days, Madam Chan’s kampong is the rooftop garden at Blk 372A Jurong East Avenue 1. There, the kampong spirit is unmistakable as amateur gardeners of various races and from many walks of life work on the garden together. For four hours a day – two in the morning and another two in the evening, the cheerful senior tends to the plants with her fellow gardeners. For their hard work, they recently had a bountiful harvest of papayas, cucumbers, xiao bai cai (Chinese cabbage), long beans, bittergourd, melons and more.
“We share what we grow. No one is left out,” Madam Chan said.
Madam Chan Kieu (1st from the left) and her fellow gardeners enjoy the fruits of their labour even as they sow seeds of friendship.
As with all kampongs, vertical or otherwise, the camaraderie is strong. “I have many friends here and I enjoy interacting with them; all of us come from different backgrounds but there is no discrimination and we are as close as siblings. We’re very happy when we’re together. We never quarrel or fight!”
The grandmother of nine added that the good health she enjoys today is thanks to her farming days.
“I can squat and get up easily, carry heavy things – even a pail of water. I can do all these because I started young; otherwise, it would definitely not be advisable for someone my age,” she said.
While Madam Chan shares her knowledge and passion for plants with her friends, the garden also gives her solace and strength. Her son was recently diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo a 16-hour surgery. He is now recovering well at home. She also has to care for her 84-year-old husband who needs help to walk.
The tenacious senior said: “I choose to be happy every day. My husband told me: ‘In life, if something is meant to be yours, it will be yours. If it isn’t meant to be yours, it never will be yours, no matter what you do.’ So, I deal with things one day at a time.”
Gardening and being with her friends help alleviate her worries. And when she gets home, she finds she has more strength to face her personal challenges.
Said Madam Chan with a grin: “I’m very happy at this garden, and I don’t allow myself to just stay at home. In life, don’t think so much, relax and be happy!
“When you’re sad, a day passes. When you’re happy, a day passes too. So why not be happy?”