Thumbing through a notebook yellowed with age, containing encouraging Bible quotes written in calligraphy, an 87-year-old volunteer reads passages to people in need of some inspiration, from hospital patients to elderly people living alone.
Every day, six days a week, Wu Liu (吳流) starts his day visiting National Taiwan University Hospital and the Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei, where he has a brief talk with several bedridden patients.
To many patients, regardless of age or gender, the routine visits by the gray-haired “grandpa Wu” fill them with a warm strength, a strength that helps restore their confidence and willpower so they can stand up to their illnesses.
Occasionally, Wu also pays a visit to a number of elderly people living in isolation in Sinjhuang District (新莊), New Taipei City (新北市), many of whom are younger than him.
Wu, the oldest volunteer with the Northern Taiwan Service Center of the Hondao Senior Citizens Welfare Foundation (HSCWF), is part of a mutual support project for senior citizens that was launched by the foundation 27 years ago.
The initiative was conceptualized to deal with Taiwan’s rapidly ageing society — where young people are preoccupied with their jobs and the elderly are often left alone and isolated — and aims to help elderly citizens live healthily and with dignity.
The foundation started recruiting elderly people as voluntary workers to take care of people of similar ages, hoping that the volunteers would not only benefit others, but also themselves by rediscovering the value of life through helping others as well as helping them maintain their physical health.
Wu perfectly illustrates the old saying that “a man’s life begins at 70,” as he has spent the later half of his life in what he regards as a much more meaningful way than the first.
Having received a Japanese education during the Japanese colonial era, Wu started a little business peddling hardware, cookware and straw mats after Japan ceded Taiwan in 1945.
Wu’s life took a bad turn in his 60s, when he was hospitalized after suffering a fall and had to spend a year at home to recuperate.
During that dark period of his life, Wu had received a lot of selfless assistance and care from volunteers, whose devotion prompted him to take part in voluntary services shortly after his recovery.
Through his daily voluntary work, Wu has not only found a sense of meaning, but also extended his family with the addition of those he has helped.
In one instance, a middle-aged man who had become deeply depressed after suffering a stroke and shut out all of his family members started to open up after Wu’s visits. Shortly afterward, the pair even became close acquaintances.
Due to the great assistance Wu had given to her father, the man’s daughter began to treat Wu as if he was a part of her own family, frequently calling him to send her regards even after her father had passed away.
“It feels like she was another daughter of mine,” Wu said with a smile.
Apart from his life as a volunteer, Wu remains an athlete despite his old age and gets up at 3am every day to go to the Sinjhuang Sports Park for several hours of exercise.
Wu can do a variety of exercises — like jogging, pull-ups and weight lifting — for hours at a time, making him as fit as people much younger than he is.
Asked how he maintains his physical strength and positive frame of mind, Wu said that although most older people in this country are left unattended, they still needed to learn how to be independent.