The Wheel Connection

Pernille Vederso Bussone from Denmark builds a bridge between the elderly in Singapore and the community through free trishaw rides.

BY DESMOND NG
PHOTOGRAPHY OUR BETTER WORLD

Singaporean grandmother Annie Tan (left) on a trishaw with Danish Pernille Vederso Bussone, who brought Cycling Without Age to Singapore.

T

he humble trishaw, a common form of transport in post-World War II Singapore, plays an important part in linking a 36-year-old Danish woman to an 87-year-old Singaporean grandmother.

Pernille Vederso Bussone, who moved to Singapore with her family in 2014, met Annie Tan in 2015 at the Salvation Army’s Family Support Services, a one-stop community-based centre where Bussone is a volunteer. Despite differences in their age, culture and language, they share a close friendship forged from the day they started going on regular trishaw rides in August 2015. Their most recent trip in November took them to Punggol Waterway, a riverine park in northeastern Singapore.

The trishaw rides are part of the Cycling Without Age initiative, which Bussone introduced to Singapore in December 2014. She calls it her Christmas present to the country.

“I find that people can communicate even without sharing a language. Sometimes, passengers will talk and I wonʼt know what theyʼre saying. But I can feel if theyʼre happy, sad or excited. The meaning is not entirely lost on me.”

Pernille Vederso Bussone, head of Cycling Without Age Singapore

Cycling Without Age is a global movement pioneered by Danish social entrepreneur Ole Kassow in 2012. He wanted to get the elderly cycling despite their limited mobility. So he started offering free trishaw rides to local nursing-home residents. The movement has since expanded to over 20 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. It currently has about 6,000 volunteers manning over 1,000 trishaws across the world.

On her friendship with Tan, Bussone, who heads a non-profit group in Singapore, says: “We may seem different from the outside, but we share the same sense of humour and are both very independent women with strong convictions. So when it comes to the fundamental things, we are more alike than different.”

Tan says in Mandarin: “I like this initiative as it brings me out of the house, and I get to explore Singapore and see different things.”

Their friendship has progressed beyond trishaw rides. They also meet occasionally, usually at Tan’s place or during special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays. The language difference – Tan is more comfortable speaking in Mandarin – has not stopped them from trading personal experiences. Says Bussone: “We do sometimes have trouble understanding each other’s English, especially on the phone. But we are so stubborn – we keep trying till we get it!”

Tan has shared stories of her youth, as well as the food and culture of her Peranakan heritage. The Peranakans are people of mixed Chinese and Malay or Indonesian heritage. In turn, Bussone has introduced aspects of Danish culture to Tan.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH
Bussone decided to bring Cycling Without Age to Singapore to build a more inclusive and liveable city for everyone. The idea is to get volunteers or family members of the elderly to take the seniors around in trishaws. The benefit is two-fold: the trips connect people to the community, and the seniors have a chance to get out and visit new places in Singapore or revisit places they used to frequent.

“We reach out to any elderly community – nursing homes, eldercare centres, family services centres, hospitals, private citizens and, sometimes, strangers in the street. There is really no such thing as a typical session,” she says.

Cycling Without Age Singapore currently owns one trishaw that organisations and volunteers can borrow to take the elderly out on trips. Bussone says that trishaw has clocked about 2,000km over 300 trips to date.

Over the next six months, three new trishaws, each costing about S$7,000, will be added to the fleet, enabling more elderly within the community to be able to feel the wind in their hair.

The trishaw has become a conversation starter for the Singaporeans Bussone meets on her trips. Many older Singaporeans tell her that seeing it on the roads has brought back a sense of nostalgia for their kampung (village) days, when the vehicle used to be a common sight.

VISIT WWW.OURBETTERWORLD.ORG/EN/STORY/CYCLING-AUNTY-ANNIE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT CYCLING WITHOUT AGE SINGAPORE. TO VOLUNTEER, WRITE TO CYCLINGWITHOUTAGESG@GMAIL.COM, OR FOLLOW WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/CYCLINGWITHOUTAGE FOR UPDATES.


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