She has received marriage proposals from at least five men.
But housewife Janet Ponniah, who is in her 50s, takes it all in her stride.
The proposals are all part of her experience at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where she has been volunteering for almost two decades.
Mrs Ponniah, who is married without children, said: “I’d reject the proposals nicely, by showing the patients my wedding ring and telling them I am already married.”
Today, IMH is holding a Volunteers Appreciation Day event to thank volunteers such as Mrs Ponniah for their contributions to its patients’ welfare and rehabilitation.
Mrs Ponniah started volunteering at IMH in 1984 with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, under the parish of Church of St Vincent de Paul.
She took a break after a year due to work commitments but resumed volunteering at the hospital in 1995. And she has not stopped since.
She said: “The patients hardly get visitors. We are their only contact from the outside world.”
“It fills me with joy when I know I made a difference to their lives.”
Mrs Ponniah now goes to the hospital at Buangkok every other Thursday.
During her three-hour visits, she talks to patients. For Catholics, she prays and takes the Holy Communion with them.
When she first started volunteering, she was apprehensive about helping out at a mental hospital.
She said: “Back then, there was a lot of stigma surrounding the patients due to the lack of exposure.”
But she got used to the patients after the first few visits.
She said that a certain stigma still exists today, with people having the misconception that mental patients are violent and frightening.
“They have these images of patients being tied down with policemen guarding their wards,” she explained.
“But mental patients are actually very friendly, and they always greet the volunteers by waving and smiling.”
She visits about 40 patients and knows all of them by name. Over time, she has also built a close bond with them.
“The patients always try to hug us or shake our hands. The blind patients even recognise our voices.”
The emotional attachment she has with the patients is strong and she feels a sense of loss when they die.
She said: “I always feel sad when I realise that I didn’t manage to say goodbye.”
IMH’s volunteer manager Catherine Chua, 66, has seen Mrs Ponniah interacting with the patients. She said: “They are always happy to see her and I can tell they have a connection.”
This passion for volunteering is why Mrs Ponniah has never thought of stopping. She wishes to see more volunteers at IMH.
She said: “By volunteering, you get to experience love and your life is enriched.
“There is nothing to fear, only to gain.”
Source: The New Paper