December 9, 2022
Photos by: Kathy Lim | Words by: Bryant Chan
(Photo above) Ms Emily Yap, a full-time nurse at Alexandra Hospital, is passionate about championing the needs of the elderly and lower-income individuals or families. For that reason, she started teaching digital skills to the elderly in her community in her spare time.
Aroom full of people tapping away at their phones is definitely a familiar setting to most of us. But these people aren’t teens or young adults. Seated in neat rows in a function room in Bukit Timah Community Centre, every single one of them is above the age of 60.
Flitting between them is Ms Emily Yap — the leader of a small army of volunteers and facilitator of a series of digital literacy workshops aimed at familiarising the elderly with modern digital innovations.
The way she sees it, it’s just an extension of her current role within her family. Living in a three-generation household, the 23-year-old is the de facto in-house tech support. If her grandparents need anything remotely technological done, like transferring money online or setting up a new router, Ms Yap is the first to answer the call.
(Above) Ms Yap converses with her grandfather Mr Andrew Yap, 84. Living in a three-generation household, and continually answering tech-related queries from her grandparents, sparked the idea to teach digital skills to other elderly in the Bukit Timah area.
The regularity of their requests got her thinking: “If my grandparents have this issue, what about other elderly people who don’t live with their families?” she asked herself. “How do they get around this new technological world?”
Various daily encounters in the workplace reinforced this concern. A staff nurse in a geriatric ward at Alexandra Hospital, Ms Yap often receives requests from numerous patients to help them pay their medical bills or book their next appointment.
“A lot of elderly people don’t realise there are apps to help them do this,” she says. And even if they are aware of these apps, many elderly folk are reluctant to take the first step into unfamiliar territory on their own, she adds.
Thus the idea of digital literacy workshops was born. The initial response was positive, with 23 participants attending the first session which covered the functions of SingHealth Group’s Health Buddy app.
(Above) Ms Yap demonstrates how to use common digital applications and online resources, such as Zoom, Singpass, and SG Digital.
Subsequent workshops covered how to use video conferencing software, like Zoom, setting up an account with funds transfer service PayNow, and even how to file a report with municipal improvement app OneService.
Ms Yap also has plans to teach the elderly about scams. With the increasing number of scam calls and messages, this is a particularly pressing concern for vulnerable elderly who may be susceptible to the tactics of scammers.
“One thing I realised about my grandparents is that they get frustrated after a while, so I always need a session for them to unwind and destress.”
Ms Emily Yap, full-time nurse
Blending Workshops and Play
When Ms Yap discovered how intimidating and stressful learning can be for the elderly, she started including a social element to her workshops in the form of batik painting.
“One thing I realised about my grandparents is that they get frustrated after a while,” she says. “They’re like ‘this is too tedious’ and they get very angry, so I always need a session for them to unwind and destress.
“So batik painting, as a form of art, is a good way to destress and relax after a productive session of learning new digital skills,” she adds. “And with the combination of relaxing music in the background, it will definitely calm one’s mind!”
Blending play with learning gives participants a chance to socially interact with other seniors and receive some mental stimulation.
(Above) Aside from learning digital skills, seniors also engage in batik painting, encouraging seniors to socially interact with each other.
“The pandemic, especially during the Dorscon Orange period a few years back, had a lot of people cooped up in their houses,” she says. “A lot of elderly people live by themselves, so they don’t really have social interactions.
“So I thought this would be a good way for us to step up, be more connected within our community, and look out for one another.”
(Above) During a digital skills session at Bukit Timah Community Centre, Mr George Yap, 68, learns how to use an online platform with Ms Yap’s help.
The workshops are just the latest in Ms Yap’s extensive portfolio of volunteer activities, the most recent of which is her work with charity organisation MINDS. She has been helping out with delivering groceries to needy families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s not easy juggling her volunteering activities with a job that demands a lot of her both physically and mentally, but Ms Yap can’t imagine giving it up.
“My grandma told me once: ‘If someone needs help and you’re capable of providing that help, you should help’,” she says.
And to her, helping people is its own reward. “The joy and happiness when I help people in our community – that’s the spark that keeps me going,” she says. “To see their faces light up when I talk to them, and catch up with them, makes it all worth it.”
If you live in the Bukit Timah area and would like to find out more about these workshops, visit or contact the Bukit Timah Community Club, 20 Toh Yi Drive Singapore 596569, tel: 6466-2912, e-mail: PA_BukitTimahCC@pa.gov.sg