Friends at your fingertip

OPPY Club has proven computers and old age are not incompatible


The perception that the older you get, the harder it is to learn computers is not really correct, as students at OPPY (Old People Playing Young) Club will attest to. They can show the routes of old people and computers are not absolutely in divergence.


Phuengchai Sookasavee, the eldest member of the OPPY Club is a case in point. She has proven learning is a process that never ends no matter how old you grow.


The ex-journalist loves writing, and spends her free time writing poems. She would not touch a computer until her niece and nephew left the country. She often had them do the odd job for her, like when she wanted a printout of the pieces she had written. But when both left to study abroad, Phuengchai was left alone with no choice but to do it herself, and was forced to learn how to operate a computer.


Even her son was uncertain when she told him that she was going to learn how to use the computer. He even asked her whether she was sure that she could do it, and such a question was a challenge. She then joined the OPPY Club for afternoon classes.


However, on the first day the most senior student in the class was a bit hesitant as she was used to taking a nap in the afternoon, The teacher seemed to know this, so she had the whole class playing Solitaire, so the students stayed awake and alert.


Phuengchai fisnished her course last week and is now able to use a computer, send and receive emails, and communicate with her niece and nephew.


“I can type, so it’s not that hard but I just cannot do it fast enough,” the 88-year-old said. Initially she thought the cost of training was expensive, but after completing the course, she found it quite reasonable because she gained knowledge and more friends.


“I would like to persuade everyone to learn computers as there are lots of benefits. Ageing people become forgetful, but learning helps us exercise the memory.” Being at home on her own doesn’t make her feel lonely anymore because she has a computer for company. 


Class 13, aka “Sunday Lovers” is an active group within the OPPY Club. This group has been around since the beginning, and has never missed a class in 10 years. The courses range from basic to advanced. According to teacher Suteera “ Jeab” Chamlongsupalak students under this group are like guinea pigs because the courses are specifically designed for the elderly.


I will quit learning when I stop breathing.” Said A.M. Direg Sungsuwan, 78, a member of the group, who used the PowerPoint programme he learned in the class to teach students at the Reserve Affairs Centre after his retirement from military service.


While on active duty, the only gadget the retired are navigator regularly used was the dead reckoning computer for calculating speed and direction in navigating and aircraft. But when Direg attended a course at OPPY Club, he found that the computer was not only for calculations, but several other things, as well, and it could provide entertainment. Today he does a lot of work using PowerPoint, Photoshop, Illustrator and Photoscape, creating greeting cards and calendars for all occasions.


Learning computers is not just “better than doing nothing”, in fact, it has led to a better quality of life among the elderly.


Pranee Pariwat, a civil servant, was afraid of computers and she quit her job just as the push for computerization of government offices came to into force. She later decided to join a computer class for the elderly and settled for the OPPY Club after seeing it being reviewed on a television programmes.


From being a complete computer illiterate, Pranee or “ Auntie Piew the cyclist” as she is known to friends on Facebook, now writes blogs, mainly about health issues, and uses Facebook to communicate with her volunteer group. She has also learnt how to use an iPad so that she can catch up with her nephews. Now 63 Years old, she travels the country when needed, always with her bicycle in tow.


“On the social network, I have a space to share and communicate with other people and it makes me feel good when I can help those in need,” said the cyclist from Ratchaburi province.


Col Pong Unchaiya, 72, retired in 2000 and learned how to use a computer at the club. One reason was because there wasn’t much else for him to do, and immediately developed a liking for the PowerPoint programme.


While in government service, Pong received scholarships twice to pursue military English training overseas. At the time Pong had no idea about computers. He had only seen others use them. Today, besides playing computer games, such as Zuma, the chairman of Infantry School alumni regularly works with PowerPoint making presentations for reunions with his old friends.


The OPPY Club has been around more than a decade during which the content of courses have been reviewed and adjusted to keep pace with changing technology.


Teacher Jeab who has conducted training courses since OPPY was founded, said some courses for the elderly have now become unnecessary, such as Microsoft Word, which was a basic course 10 years ago, and have been replaced by subjects more topical such as the Internet. Students now learn how to access websites, search for information and pictures using Google, and how to send/receive email. The duration of the course is 21 hours, down from 30, and costs between 7,500 to 3,500 baht.


Interestingly, the elderly are more keen about iPads than computers. Teacher Jeab said it is easier for older people to work with tablets than desktops or notebooks. But there are also some problems using the touch screens, because their fingers and big and hard, and some have long nails. But this can be solved using a stylus. Courses such as social networking (Facebook), online chat(Skype), iPad and photo-taking with a digital camera have proven popular among the students today.


The OPPY Club was founded in 2000 by Khunying Chatchanee Jatikawanit who herself never yielded to advancing age. It was founded by accident, at the dining table, when her son pointed out that the number of old people using the Internet was growing faster than any other segment in the world. It prompted her to start a computer course for elderly people in Thailand. Starting with her siblings and eight senior citizens, the club today has 3,700 members. The OPPY Club is managed by Learning Media Division of Loxley Pcl.


Khunying Chatchanee said old people require friends. The Internet is one thing that can help them make new friends everyday, anytime. Computers and old people are not incompatible, she insisted, arguing that age was just a number, not an obstacle to learning something new.


“Don’t make age a barrier, don’t refuse to experiment new things and don’t tell yourself that you are too old to do this or do that. Keep an open mind and you will find that the computer is something new that can fill your life and reduce your feeling of loneliness or being old,” said the 84-year old OPPY founder.

Bangkok Post
Friday, March 30,2012

Newspaper section: Life
Story: Sasiwimon Boonruang

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