Close to 200 guests – most of them elderly – gathered in the void deck of a HDB block in Ang Mo Kio, chatting merrily among themselves as volunteers served "bento boxes" of rice and vegetables. Set in the middle of each table was a large dish of neatly sliced turkey and stuffing.
For the first time, the US embassy, with the support of ITE College Central, reached out to the community to share the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, the national holiday is a day family and friends get together to stuff their faces with food and feel grateful for all that they have in their lives. It's often traced back to a feast by the pilgrims in 1621, held to show gratitude for a good harvest. (There has, however, been no shortage of criticism of the holiday, and how it erases racism and the genocide of the continent's indigenous people.)
Half a world away from the politics and widespread practice of Thanksgiving, the senior citizens of the AWWA Community Home for Senior Citizens were ready to celebrate this novel holiday, and to at least live up to the basic message of appreciation and goodwill.
"This is what AWWA stands for," said AWWA Chief Executive Office Tim Oei, highlighting the ways in which everyone in the community home interact and support one another. "It's about people doing things for other people."
Set up in 1976, AWWA Community Home does not see itself as a nursing home. Instead, it was set up to provide elderly Singaporeans with a community in which they can continue socialising, interacting and contributing. Some of the seniors who live in the AWWA Community Home continue to hold down jobs, and all residents take care of their own units and daily needs. Regular activities are available for people to stay active and bond with their neighbours.
"It's amazing what the folks at AWWA do," US Ambassador Kirk Wagar told The Online Citizen. "They're providing a family structure for people who don't have them."
74-year-old Tan Sein Kiew, who has been at the AWWA Community Home for fours years, had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, but thoroughly enjoyed his dinner. "This type of food we seldom have in the home," he said. "The turkey was very nicely done. Turkey is not cheap so we don't have it at the home!"
87-year-old Mdm Seeni P joined AWWA Community Home 16 years ago, after her two sons left Singapore for work. "I learnt about [Thanksgiving] in school but I forgot already!" she said with a smile. "But this was very nice. It was something different."