To others, food is fuel for the body – it gives us energy and keeps us healthy and strong. But for 80-year-old Mdm Ho Mui Tee, food is so much more. Through cooking, she gives others not just nutritious meals but also love and care. Each dish she prepares is a testament to her passion, dedication, and the skills that were once her livelihood before retirement.
“I used to have a food stall in Commonwealth where I sold nasi lemak, char kway teow, hokkien mee and more. I ran it for over 10 years. People would come to me for group buys and delivery orders too,” she recalls. “My favourite moments were handling bulk orders for group buys or delivery. It brought me a lot of joy, only comparable to seeing satisfied expressions on my customers' faces when they enjoyed my food. I eventually closed it down a few years ago to take care of my grandson.”
Interestingly, Mdm Ho's love for cooking evolved beyond personal enjoyment and work. Besides cooking for her family and at her food stall, she also volunteered at a temple for a few years, cooking vegetarian lunches for devotees who came to pray.
How Mdm Ho Became A Volunteer At NTUC Health Henderson Home
It was this act of volunteerism that kickstarted Mdm Ho’s passion for serving others with her culinary skills. As the closure of her stall gave her more personal time to focus her efforts on volunteering, she thus allowed herself to spend more time giving back to others.
“It makes me happy caring for others. As long as people are eating the food I make for them, I’ll be happy to continue cooking for them,” Mdm Ho says.
Her stint at the temple made her want to search for other volunteer opportunities that allowed her to utilise her skills. Fortuitously, NTUC Health Henderson Home was looking for a cook, something she found out while having a break at a coffee shop.
“I heard someone talking about needing a volunteer to help cook for the seniors, so I jumped at the chance,” she says. “Just before the pandemic happened, I came to Henderson Home once a month, and after restrictions were eased, I kept coming back.”
Mdm Ho enjoys cooking for Henderson Home because it allows her to have free reign over the kitchen. She gets to plan the menu, source and prepare the ingredients, just like when she had a food stall.
“I do take requests from the residents. Sometimes, they tell me what they would like to have next and I’ll try my best to accommodate them,” she says. “A resident just said they would like nasi lemak so I cooked that last month. This month, it’s ABC soup, rice, and some fish.”
She also takes note of the different holidays and prepares food related to the festival.
“For Chinese New Year next month, I’ll be preparing mee sua with chicken drumsticks to signify longevity for the seniors here.”
Why Mdm Ho Volunteers as a Cook
While the entire process may sound extensive, Mdm Ho’s enthusiasm for cooking has never faltered. Cooking for the residents has only encouraged her to keep honing her craft, experimenting with new recipes and improving on them to provide everyone with scrumptious meals.
“In my free time, I like to watch a variety of YouTube cooking videos. It doesn’t matter who they’re from, or what type of cuisine they’re cooking in the video. If it looks interesting, I’ll watch the whole video, and if I have time, I’ll try some of them too. Some of them have gotten good results,” she says.
Being able to cook for others and seeing the bliss on their faces as they enjoy their meal is not the only result Mdm Ho has gotten from her volunteer work. It has also allowed her to befriend the other seniors, expanding her social circle outside of her usual group.
For Mdm Ho, the residents at NTUC Health Henderson Home feel just like her family. Even though she only cooks for them once a month, she gives them the best of what she can provide.
“Cooking here, it feels like I’m helping create a family unit, especially when everyone comes together to eat.”
To her, cooking is not just how she nourishes and cares for others around her, but also her way of staying active and healthy.
“As much as possible, I want to keep volunteering and cooking. This is important to me, that I stay active so that I can continue serving others,” she says.
If you’re interested in volunteering with NTUC Health Henderson Home, call 9237 8568.