He’s the inspiring hero of new short film “Waiting Room”. Meet Tommy Yu who has been volunteering and offering free funerals for the elderly for 38 years!
If anyone deserves a long-serving volunteer award, it’s Tommy Yu. The former “hooligan” (his words, not ours) can’t read or write, but has been a Robin Hood to low-income seniors for over 30 years.
We met Tommy in his office, which contains donated wheelchairs and crutches – he lends these to elderly residents at no cost.
As a teenager, he befriended seniors around Bukit Merah, and later developed it into a ground-up initiative called LUVE (Love & Unity Volunteers Establishment). Besides weekly visits, Tommy runs a hotline and even arranges pro-bono funerals.
If volunteer CVs were a thing, this is what would be on Tommy’s:
- He does around 20 pro-bono funerals for the destitute elderly each year
- He’s cultivated super-loyal volunteers, some of whom have been with him for over 20 years
- He visits the elderly several times a week, without fail, for over 30 years
- He “defended” a nursing home, and once offered to take a beating on behalf of its residents (More on this later!)
Tommy’s story is so inspirational, he now has a short film based on his life called Waiting Room, which was released in April under NVPC’s 15 Shorts film initiative. We hear his story, in his own words:
Growing Up, Bukit Merah Was a Rough Neighbourhood…
Tommy Yu: “… You could say I was a little hooligan. I was hanging with my friends one day when we heard loud singing. We fully intended to tell the culprits off – but discovered it came from an old folk’s club. At that moment, another ruffian burst in, looking to create a scene. I said, ‘If you want to hit anyone, hit me. We can settle this one-on-one outside.” From that day on, my pals and I hung outside the club and defended the seniors. You can say I’ve been “defending” them till today!”
Tommy (middle) with NVPC CEO Melissa Kwee and filmmaker Daniel Yun who executive produced “Waiting Room”, a film about Tommy.
We Didn’t Have The Concept of Volunteering In My Day…
TY: “… But we had an understanding with the seniors: Their business was our business. Back then, there were a lot of Samsui women or “ma jie” (domestic helpers) with no family here. If they fell and got hurt, I saw it as my duty to help. I still tell the elderly: “Till the day you enter a coffin, you’re my business. I’ll look after you.”
The short film “Waiting Room” is based on Tommy’s work with the elderly
I Get Calls To Arrange Funerals For Seniors With No Kin
TY: “I try to talk to them before they pass on. Some of the old folks ask why I care – I tell them to treat me as an adopted son, and I promise them a proper send-off so they can leave the world in peace. Even if I am doing pro-bono funerals for a stranger, I don’t just do any old lorry. I have standards. I insist on transporting the coffin in a hearse with those see-through windows, and I blast music. We have to treat the deceased as family. They may not be able to thank me, but I sleep soundly at night.”
What’s Motivated Me For 38 Years
“What’s important is what I can do for society. I can’t read. I can’t write. So what can I give? Well, I can give you my time. I don’t want publicity or wealth, just a sense of peace.”
The Main Issues I See With The Elderly…
TY: “Many don’t get out of their homes. I’m worried that they’ll die alone. During my weekly visits, I encourage them to mingle with other seniors in their neighbourhood. I want to foster a network of mutual aid among seniors.”
My Wife Asked When I’ll Stop Volunteering…
TY: “The day I die!”
The interview with Tommy Yu was conducted in Mandarin and later translated into English, with minor tweaks for phrasing and clarity.
Check out “Waiting Room”! Directed by Nicole Midori Woodford, the film is part of the 15 Shorts initiative between NVPC and local film company Blue3Asia. It gathers 15 local filmmakers to tell stories of everyday Singaporean heroes.15 Shorts is in support of SG Cares.