Shamala Thilarajah, the newly elected President of the Singapore National Stroke Association and member of the World Stroke Organization Future Leaders Programme, talks to us about adapting stroke support activities in the context of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on our societies by altering norms and our practices. For the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA), like other non-profit organizations worldwide, existing challenges have been amplified and new challenges arose. Digitalisation was no longer optional, as all interactions turned to virtual platforms.
During the pandemic SNSA moved all programmes to the virtual platform. SNSA’s most popular programme is ‘Befriending’ with volunteer stroke survivors visiting stroke patients in hospitals to provide support services. However, this has been ceased during the pandemic and SNSA moved to befriending for stroke survivors and caregivers via phone and use of videos to digitalise services.
Volunteer therapists and programme facilitators had to learn how to deliver classes safely and utilise technology to engage the participants. Staff had to learn how to conduct a virtual Annual General Meeting and teach participants to do online voting. SNSA also created new programmes during the pandemic. “Breakfast with Poch” is a virtual social chat programme that is facilitated by Ms Tan Poh Choo, Vice President of SNSA. This programme was created from members’ feedback that they would like virtual programmes that enable them to have conversations with each other. We also introduced “Stroke of Love” facilitated by our volunteer Sex Therapist, who holds small group, gender specific discussions on sexual issues after stroke. To date, SNSA has held many different types of virtual programmes that include talks, exercise, dance, singing and games night.
As a not-for profit organisation, SNSA depends on fundraising events such as concerts or walkathons to raise funds. However, with safe distancing we also had to transform the activities to online events. We held our annual walkathon virtually and engaged members through a month-long social media campaign. SNSA collaborated with local organisations to also host a live fundraising concert via Facebook Live. SNSA has also been fortunate with support from generous donors such as Boehringer Ingelheim Singapore who donated their government support funding to SNSA. Singapore citizens who also received government support pay-outs donated to charities such as SNSA. SNSA also benefitted from the government grants that subsidised digitalisation infrastructure, rent and staff wages. Without these additional grants and donations and with limited fundraising opportunities, it would be difficult for small VWOs to have survived the pandemic.
However, virtual programmes are limited in their reach and there were many members who were not able to join the activities as they found it hard to interact or did not know how to use Zoom. We are currently working on transitioning to small group face to face activities while adhering to national guidelines on safe distancing.
SNSA is surviving the pandemic and through the generosity of our donors and government aid, we have been able to relocate to a larger premises where we are able to hold activities for our members. SNSA celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year and as we plan our celebrations, these unprecedented times have urged us to re-think our strategies as we move forwards into the future.
Author: Shamala Thilarajah is the newly elected President of the Singapore National Stroke Association (2021-2023). She served as the Secretary from 2019-2021 and as an Executive Committee Member from 2017-2019. Shamala is a physiotherapist by training and is also currently a selected candidate in the World Stroke Organisation Future Leaders Programme. Twitter: @sthilarajah
Achieving our vision of a life free from stroke is a task that WSO cannot achieve alone. We are committed to building our partnerships at the global, regional and national level to scale up and deliver improvements in prevention, treatment and support to reduce the burden of stroke.