Groundup Features: Project Kalon



In this edition of Groundup Features, we speak to Ethan, who is the founder of Project Kalon. Project Kalon is a groundup initiative started by youth promoting the sport of Pétanque to the elderly residents of Singapore. The aims of Project Kalon are to encourage a healthy lifestyle and combat the loneliness epidemic for seniors. They hope for Singapore to have bonded communities of elderly residents united by the love for pétanque.


Hey Ethan, thanks for being here with us today. Tell us more about yourself!

Hi everyone, I’m Ethan. I am currently a Secondary 4 student at Raffles Institution and I am the founder of Project Kalon! I decided to start this project because I had time to spare after my final exams, which ended half a year ago, so my friends and I came up with the idea of introducing the sport of pétanque to seniors in Singapore.


What inspired you to start Project Kalon?

Having volunteered for Pétanque Singapore as a photographer and also having a few athlete friends, my understanding of the sport grew. Additionally, when I went overseas last year, I visited a few senior centres while in the UK and I found out that many Senior Centres in the UK and Europe have pétanque as a recreational activity. However, in Singapore, this was not the case.

How this project started was when my Malay language school teacher brought me to a Meet-the-People session where I met Minister Desmond Lee. I came across many older adults living with dementia, diabetes or who were handicapped, unable to play regular sports but who wanted to live a healthy lifestyle. That was how I thought of the idea to teach the game of pétanque to seniors in Singapore.




Tell us more about what Project Kalon does! How did you adapt this game originating from the UK for our local seniors?

Project Kalon pays visits to different Senior Centres and Community Centres in Singapore to teach seniors how to play pétanque. Our first event was in Boon Lay where it was a pop-up experience. We set up in a small area of the Boon Lay neighborhood and invited elderly residents around the area to try the game out. We have progressed a lot since the first event! Project Kalon’s aims are to promote a healthy lifestyle and curb loneliness among seniors because loneliness and unhealthy living are two of the most detrimental reasons for the unhappiness faced by seniors, where they are not able to live the life they want to after retirement.


What’s next on the pipeline for you?

We have begun to liaise with the SG Cares movement so we are working very closely with the SG Cares team to expand this project, making it more sustainable and lasting to keep on bringing happiness to the seniors in the community.




What were some encouraging moments that kept you going as a groundup founder?

One of the more encouraging moments I have experienced happened today actually! Before this call, I was at one of our events at a Senior Day Care in Serangoon. We have just ended a fruitful 3-day event where we taught the elderly how to play the sport. At the end, one of the seniors gave me a gift - a handmade teddy bear, as a token of appreciation. I was really touched when I received it! The seniors at this event were very encouraging and attentive when we were teaching them. Almost all of them participated and even when eliminated in the competition, they stood by the side to cheer for their peers. It was heartwarming to be a part of that.


On the other side, what were some challenges you encountered and how did you actively solve them?

Starting this project was not an easy task because I did not have much support at the start. I had to reach out to my group of friends to ask if they wanted to join me and fortunately, a few of them said yes. My team was sort of a rag-tag team. No one knew each other except for me. The team consisted of my classmates, a CCA mate and someone I met in a competition. This made the dynamics different and there were challenging moments where our team struggled balancing between academics and this project. A few of the team members saw this as a side project so sometimes they do not dedicate all their time to this, which is understandable. Hence, at the start, communication was a big challenge and it took a long time to sort out the logistics and organise our first event at Boon Lay in September.

The problem of seniors who are unwilling to participate in the activities is quite prevalent in a few of our activities but over time, we have learnt how to overcome such problems. We have identified that there are two groups of people who are unwilling to participate in the pétanque activity – first being those who simply do not want to play, and second being those who are unable to play.

For seniors who are unable to play, we have begun to include other activities for them so that they can do more than sit around and watch their peers play. Now, we have activities such as origami, colouring or even normal befriending and interacting with the seniors to get to know them better. This definitely helps to brighten their days. For the seniors who are not interested in pétanque, we try to encourage the regular participants to continue playing the game and that helps influence the unwilling ones to give it a try eventually. That’s why we run the program as 2-3 day activities because on the first day, the seniors will not be as interested or passionate about this new sport which is unheard of to them and they are afraid to give it a try. However, most times, after a few days, they realise that this sport is pretty fun and suitable for them!




Any advice for peers who are keen to start their own groundup initiative?

My advice would be - don’t be scared of failure and rejection. My team has tried very hard to engage senior centres and other partners and sometimes these potential collaborations don’t materialise. It can be a bit demoralising but just do not give up and remember what you are passionate about and continue to chase after it. Even though there are setbacks, persevere and you will succeed at the end of the day.


What is one lesson you took away as a groundup founder?

There are many lessons but one was honing my interpersonal skills to connect with the elderly. Connecting with the seniors can sometimes be a daunting task because the they might not be receptive or friendly to you but deep down, they want to talk to you so you have to keep trying and keep being warm to them even if they respond coldly.




How can our readers support your initiative?

We are intending to open up recruitment to senior volunteers, to work together to continue these activities for the seniors. Our project is gaining popularity and traction, but it is hard for us to sustain the activities due to school. In the case of senior day care centres, they are only open on weekdays(7am to 4pm), so we are unable to organise events for this group as our school ends around the same time. We hope to start recruiting senior volunteers this coming 2023, utilising various platforms to reach them. I understand that a handful of the elderly are willing to do such activities because some of them have shared with me that after retiring, they often spend their days at home which causes them not to have a sense of accomplishment and feel rather restless sitting at home all day just using up their savings. Volunteering can give them a chance to give back to the community and help those in need as well.

Separately, we are also opening up some avenues to raise money. One set of 3 pétanque balls costs about $120 which is very expensive because two sets are required to play a game between 2 elderly adults. Given these high costs, we are unable to have that many activities and are also unable to encourage and motivate the Senior Centres to continue the sport when we are not there to provide the equipment. Through merchandise sales, cookie sales or car wash activities to raise funds so readers can also participate in these fundraising efforts. Alternatively, readers can also encourage their grandparents to join these activities with us! For those who are interested to support our initiative, they can reach out to us through our Instagram.



Finally, how do you think your initiative helps Singapore become a City of Good?

This project spreads love around all of us because some of the seniors in the homes feel very lonely and have no one to support them on a regular basis, so sometimes they don’t feel loved. What we need to do is, at the core of it, we are trying to give the elderly a fun time for them to enjoy themselves and for them to enjoy life after retirement. We are trying to give them something to do when they are bored and something to bond with their peers over. This would help to spread love and joy around our community.


Fun fact: What’s a subject you are looking forward to in JC?

I am looking forward to project work as I can meet new people and work with them to produce a good project together!



* This feature has been edited for clarity


About the authors:

Hazel is currently an Intern at Groundup Central. With hopes of tackling existing inequalities in the society, she wishes for more people to be aware of the underlying issues.