Mr Teo Hin Sieng ,70, has been living alone in his 2-room flat in Toa Payoh for more than 10 years. The retired factory worker has gotten used to the feeling of loneliness over the years, and relies on his faithful guitar to keep him company.

“I like the guitar, you can say that it’s my best friend,” he said with a smile.

Sitting on the sofa, he strummed his guitar and serenaded individuals painting his door with his favorite songs.

These individuals were some of the 1,000 people taking part in Singapore’s largest clean-up event, Home Sweet Home, on the morning of Jul 8. Organized by Habitat for Humanity, the inaugural event saw participants cleaning and re-painting the homes of 120 beneficiaries in Chai Chee, Toa Payoh and Redhill in an effort to improve their living conditions.

“We are the only country in the world without a shelter problem,” said Ms Usha Menon, 53, a member of Habitat for Humanity’s board of directors. “But when you go into the 1-room, 2-room apartments today, you will know the kind of problem we face in Singapore, where we have elderly who are living all by themselves.”

One such elderly is 66-year-old Mr Mr Low Chin Hee. He has been living alone for 17 years in a shoebox apartment in Chai Chee. The retiree recounted taking over his family business at the age of 13, and attributed overworking in his youth to his health’s decline. At 40, he had a stroke and was forced to retire.

He now gets by with a monthly allowance of $500 from the public assistance scheme.

Despite the tough circumstances, Mr Low remained jovial as he joked with the participants.

“I used to be very handsome, had the ‘curry-pok’ haircut and [wore] flared pants. Other people couldn’t pull it off but I could,” he shared with a laugh.

Another elderly living in Chai Chee is 68-year-old Mdm Rahmah Binte Daud. With no children to call her own, she has been living alone in a 1-room flat since her husband’s death 21 years ago.

“Ever since the passing of my husband in 1996, I’ve been living alone and it has been lonely. These participants come over and while helping me, we have small conversations and I tell them stories about how this area has changed over the years,” she said, grateful for the companionship.

Having grown up in a 4-room flat, 28-year-old Mr Caleb Low admitted that prior to the event, he never knew that shoebox flats still existed in Singapore. He had never witnessed such conditions before and was shocked by what he saw. He felt that the experience was really meaningful as it opened his eyes to the plight of these vulnerable elderly.

29-year-old participant from Allegis, Ms Riqha Moorthy agreed. She was participating in the event as part of her company’s Corporate Social Responsibility. She found the experience rewarding as it has given her a chance to see a side of Singapore that she has never seen before. She said: “We don’t usually hear about these elderly people because we are comfortably living in our five room flats and stuff. The Pioneer generation built the country but they are the most neglected, so I feel the need to help.”

She added: “You don’t think much about volunteering when you are younger but now as I am older, I see the need to volunteer more.”

Hoping that his son will learn to give back to the community when he grows up, 37-year-old Mr Thomas, brought his 2-year-old toddler to the event. He said: “When we start bringing him to such activities from young, he will feel comfortable volunteering when he’s older.”

Besides cleaning up homes of the elderly, participants also picked up litter in the surrounding housing estates.

Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, guest of honor at the event, visited the elderly of Chai Chee estate before heading to the post-event carnival.

There, he placed a note of encouragement to participants onto a mural of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who pioneered cleaning efforts in Singapore, before presenting sponsors and partners of Home Sweep Home with tokens of appreciation.

Encouraging people to supporting such community outreach events, Mr Tan said: “When we volunteer regularly to make a difference, not only will society change, but there will be change within ourselves.”