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Bringing the Doula Approach to Singapore

By Henry Fersko-Weiss
November 10, 2017
In Category: 2017 | Blogs

At the end of October, I spent 12 days teaching and consulting at Assisi Hospice in Singapore. It’s an amazing city that is its own country at the very tip of Malaysia. A British colony until it became independent in 1965, the city is alive with three primary and quite different cultures: Chinese, Indian (mostly Tamil from South India), and Malaysian. With these cultures come four different religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Often these different religions and cultures mingle together on the same street, but also exist in separate enclaves in the city. The citizens of Singapore have great respect for each other’s traditions and beliefs. You can see evidence of all three cultures woven together in beautiful architecture, parks, and energetic life on the streets.


For a city Singapore is incredibly lush, with over 50 parks, incredible orchids, and a great variety of beautiful trees that line most of the roads and streets. Great food is also a specialty of Singapore, and I was able to have wonderful vegetarian Chinese, Indian, and Thai meals.


I worked with Assisi Hospice to train their current vigil volunteers how to become true doulas, thus expanding the work they have been doing for a while in a No One Dies Alone (NODA) program. The staff that lobbied for INELDA to go to Singapore took great care of me, were very dedicated to the patients they serve, and progressive in their thinking about future services. They have the passion and open-hearted spirit that leads to wonderful care of the dying.


The first weekend I was in Singapore I taught 50 volunteers how to be doulas. The group was energized and enthusiastic, sharing much more than would have been typical in a culture that is generally very reserved. People in Singapore don’t usually or easily talk about their emotions, and certainly not with people outside of their family or very close circle of friends. Yet in this training sharing and even crying happened throughout the weekend.


That weekend training was followed by days of meetings and presentations oriented to how Assisi hospice and other palliative care organizations might expand their services to home-bound patients. I also helped them consider how they might better serve people dying with end-stage dementia and how they might work with dying children.


On the second Friday of my time there I gave a lecture to about 85 people on bereavement and how organizations—health care as well as churches—might create programs to support people who are grieving. This was followed the next day by an all-day workshop on bereavement for about 50 people—volunteers, professionals, and administrators.


My trip was incredibly successful. I hope it will mark the start of other work in Singapore and in that region of the world. Assisi is the first hospice outside of the U.S. that we have helped to build a program based on INELDA’s doula model. I’m sure we will work with many more hospices and palliative care programs abroad in the years to come. But Singapore will have a special place in my heart because it was the first, and because of the lovely caring people I met there over my 12-day stay