A concerned citizen has asked why cardboard collecting is seen as a recreational activity for senior citizens, after his motives for posting a viral photo of an elderly woman collecting cardboard was questioned by some online.

Facebook user Vladimir Guevarra spotted the hunched senior citizen collecting cardboard when he was cycling along Eng Hoon Street in Tiong Bahru, on 26 Nov. Mr Guevarra saw a Porsche SUV reversing towards the elderly lady who was obliviously arranging her stack of cardboard.

The driver thankfully managed to stop before he collided into the woman but Mr Guevarra was disturbed by how the elderly lady was invisible to the luxury car driver. Revealing that he approached the woman to check on her and found that she looked very tired, the netizen said that the lady looked “too old” and shouldn’t be doing what she was doing.

He added that he gave the woman the cash he had with him and urged her to have her dinner. Highlighting the woman’s plight on social media, Mr Guevarra posted a photo online, showing the frail woman and her tall pile of cardboard behind the Porsche car.

The photo quickly went viral and Singaporeans expressed concern over the elderly cardboard collector. Prominent figures like distinguished diplomat Tommy Koh and actor-director Ivan Heng were among those who felt that the photo reflected inequality in Singapore, while others lauded Mr Guevarra for his kindheartedness.

Some online, however, criticised Mr Guevarra for not letting the woman be since cardboard collecting could be her preferred form of exercise.

Interestingly, the senior citizen later did say that she saw cardboard collecting as a way to pass time and get exercise. She added that she did not need any social service help since her son is taking care of her.

In a Facebook post published on Thursday (10 Dec), Mr Guevarra said: “Now, if my memory serves me well – and these are details I did not share in the original post – that was a rainy afternoon on Nov 26. It was still drizzling when I cycled on my way to group bootcamp. The picture shows puddles on the road.

“I could be wrong in asking this, but looking at the high stack of cardboards collected by the lady, what are the chances that she was working on the streets while it was raining, or at least, drizzling? Wasn’t the road too dangerous and slippery?”

Highlighting how physically demanding cardboard collecting can be, he questioned: “Are you guys telling me that septuagenarians and octogenarians, in their declining health, would very much rather bend, pick, lift, and push, repeatedly, sometimes under the heat of the sun, sometimes in the rain or drizzle, maneuvering through vehicular traffic, rather than stay home during COVID, read books, or play with or teach their grandchildren?”

Mr Guevarra was also concerned that cardboard collecting was seen as a recreational activity by some people and asked about the availability of other recreational programmes for senior citizens:

“As for pastimes or exercises, wouldn’t it be better and safer for the elderly to, say, volunteer at their community centre, attend courses, learn new hobbies, or do some brisk walking or stretching with some assistance or supervision?

“Can our elderly afford these, are there enough programs for them, or do they simply feel that they don’t have the choice?”

The netizen asked his detractors: “How would you want it for your own parents or grandparents? How would you want it for yourself when you hit your 70s? If you have close relatives in their 70s or 80s, could you ask them? Because I have a feeling we all know the preferred answer.”

A small minority of people online also accused Mr Guevarra of trying to make himself look good by publishing his first post.

Mr Guevarra said that the intention behind his post was to raise awareness and rally support for the elderly lady. He added that he took the photo after he checked on the lady since he found the contrasting image of an old lady eking out a living beside a luxury car “jarring”.

It took Mr Guevarra over 10 days to contemplate whether making the post was worth the risk of some ridiculing him for virtue-signalling but he ultimately decided to publish the post to raise important issues like the importance of caring for the elderly and the divide between rich and poor.

He said: “In the end, I was willing to take the risk of being ridiculed if it meant that the message could reach even just one person. That is more important. Turns out the message is reaching more people.”

Read his post in full here.

Elderly Singaporean works an entire day to collect 300kgs of cardboard, only to earn $30

Post goes viral: Luxury car reverses dangerously close to frail, elderly cardboard collector