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Juliana Johan and Dean Ng, SUSS Gerontology Alumnae


Juliana and Dean
Dynamic duo, Juliana (first from left) and Dean (first from right), spearhead programmes to uplift lives from the young to old. [Photo: Juliana Johan and Dean Ng]

Changing out of the blue to help the silver

Juliana and Dean were classmates in the pioneer batch of SUSS’ Masters in Gerontology programme. Before enrolling at SUSS, they were both senior police officers. Since meeting in school, they have co-founded two ventures: The Facilitators’ Project, an initiative where volunteers impart life and leadership skills to abused and neglected children and women living in shelters, and The Affirmative People, a business which offers health-and-wellness programmes that address the human spirit. They have also launched the Surfing60s podcast series and club to improve the quality of life of older people globally, as they age.

Watch Juliana and Dean share about their career switch to empower healthy lifestyles and mindsets for the elderly here.

Tell us about yourself.

Juliana: I am a Possibility and High-Performance Therapeutic Coach. I support people on their journey to heal, rediscover their inner strength and expand the edge of what is possible especially in times of crisis, uncertainty or complexity. Most of my clients are aged above 45 and I am grateful that I am able to redefine ageing through my knowledge obtained from completing my Masters in Gerontology. It is a real great joy when people are able to live more impactfully every day, loving life past their 50s.

Dean: I am a Transformational Health Coach and I effectively guide people to experience their performance and health breakthroughs. Some of my clients have health issues such as chronic fatigue, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and gout. Some are CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs who understand the importance of harnessing long-lasting energy throughout the day and clearing brain fog. More often than not, the two categories overlap because health is often an important but overlooked aspect until it becomes urgent. I am blessed to be part of the first batch to embark on the Gerontology programme at SUSS. It is where I started reflecting deeply about my health and ageing process.

Why did you decide to pursue your career?

Juliana: I was raised by my grandparents, and this had inspired me to take up the SUSS Gerontology course to learn how to better care for them. It was only after learning more in the course that I realised how much I do not know and that there is so much that can be done in the ageing process.

I remember chancing upon SUSS’ course advertisement when I was at the hospital for a medical appointment. This got me thinking that as I grew older, it would be good to learn more about ageing and see where I could make a meaningful contribution. I wanted to shape the reality so that I could age comfortably myself. I felt that existing policies, especially in terms of health care for seniors, could be improved, and this was something I would like to have a say in. Then, as a senior police officer who interacts regularly with members of the community, many of whom are seniors, I also wanted to see how the knowledge gained through the course could help me in my full-time job.

How did you get involved in your current projects?

Juliana: With increasing numbers of educated seniors, there is a need to offer more robust opportunities for them to cultivate deeper personal development and intellectual growth. As their definition of a satisfactory life is wider than previous generations, they also have a greater need for services that support their psychological and emotional well-being. They have a greater consciousness on health, happiness and impact. Emphasis on this is really needed and we’ve consistently built our expertise in these fields.

With this in mind, Dean and I started a business called The Affirmative People, which offers health-and-wellness programmes to clients both from and outside of Singapore. We are on a mission to reshape healthcare of the future so that each patient will understand the emotional, psychological and nutritional components of their illness. We started The Affirmative People because we strongly believe that long-term pharmaceutical medicine is not the only solution and should not be the first solution. Lifestyle interventions such as nutritional adjustments, stress and emotional management as well as play and movement are critical in ensuring good health of the community in Singapore and globally.

We are super grateful for our supporters because our business is first built on the strong foundation of referrals and it has grown ever since. Our programmes have helped our clients to achieve health breakthroughs such as reversing high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and thalassemia. We also empower our clients to pursue their innermost dreams and leave an impactful legacy that they have always wanted.

Dean: We also co-founded The Facilitators’ Project, a volunteer initiative that imparts self-mastery and leadership skills to abused and neglected children and women living in shelters. Our project appreciates people not as helpless victims but empowered survivors and leaders, so we give them opportunities and support them to contribute rather than be mere recipients. We also get to organise fun and meaningful intergenerational events that involve seniors under this project because we believe seniors have a wealth of wisdom yet to be fully tapped. We are grateful because the network that we’ve built with the SUSS Gerontology students and alumni enabled us to easily find support for our initiatives.

Please share some rewarding experiences from your work.

Juliana: For me, it is very rewarding to see my clients reconcile with their past and release emotional and psychological burdens such as guilt, shame, grief or anger, that they have been dragging with them all those years. Some of them have been through a difficult past or even traumatic events which made them easily triggered or fearful. It is really meaningful to give them the safe space to discuss things that they find unable to share with others. Facilitating their deep connection with their inner strengths so much so that they are able to create new pathways in their lives is extremely rewarding. They are able to find life exciting again and work on new projects - some of which were deemed impossible at first - with zest.

Sometimes, the simplest thing in life is the hardest when you are older. For example, starting a relationship or a business. At the age of 50, people now have the confident expectancy of living at least four more decades. Social norms can clash with people who want to live full lives. Bringing back their smiles by giving them the tools, permission to be themselves and shifting their mindset is a priceless experience. My clients feeling a greater self-worth, self-love and confidence to pursue what matters to them gives me meaning in life.

Also, I am privileged to be in a position where I have the honour to be there at the final journey where people seek closure, meaning and strength. Through my work as a therapeutic coach and volunteering at Dover Park Hospice, I am able to be there for palliative care patients and make every moment count too.

Dean: Once, after a session ran under The Facilitators’ Project, one of the kids came over and told me that she had never thought that healthy food could smell and taste so good. It really made my day to see the children picking healthy snacks over unhealthy ones, when given the choice.

Another instance, one client of The Affirmative People, with gout, high cholesterol and hypertension, saw a complete reversal of these conditions after three months of us working together – his cholesterol reading was actually better than when on medication! Even his doctor was amazed with his blood results, and he is no longer on any medication.

Another client dealing with weight issues initially could not even sit on plastic stools, as they would collapse under her weight. After several months of working together, her garment size dropped from 5XL to XL, and she could take regular walks without experiencing pain in her joints. Of course, her case is still a work-in-progress, and she is working towards her optimal body size.

For all these issues, part of the solution can be really simple – nutrition. Almost all my clients could not believe how their food preferences had shifted so dramatically after the programmes – going from hating vegetables to loving them, and from having uncontrollable food cravings, to having no desire to eat unhealthy food.

What goals are you working towards?

Juliana: During the course, I realised that the needs of the ageing population are underserved under current systems, especially in the aspects of their mental and emotional well-being. With this in mind, I hope that healthcare systems can become more effective and holistic, namely by including care from the emotional, mental and nutritional angles.

In terms of initiatives, we hope to create a global community of lifelong learners, or Empowered Leaders Doing Everything Strategically (ELDERS) under the Surfing60s umbrella. We hope to inspire people with empowering mindsets and healthy ways of life through our podcasts and other projects. It is never too early to start thinking about how to age better.

Dean: According to the National Health Group, if left unchecked, the number of stroke patients living in Singapore, along with other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol could more than double, growing to as high as 1 million by 2050 - a mere 30 years from now.

And in the US, doctors have predicted that as the rate of childhood obesity increases, life expectancy is on a declining rate (people are dying younger). If this trend is not reversed, our children will be the first generation that will not outlive our generation. This is indeed alarming.

My vision is to drastically reduce the number of people suffering from chronic illnesses by at least 50% and improve their quality of life. I believe that health is the ultimate expression of love – and only with optimal health, can each individual maximise his/her potential.

How has your SUSS experience shaped you and helped you pursue your passion?

Juliana: Being a part of SUSS enabled me to enjoy the nurturing guidance from role models such as Dr Mehta. Despite my hectic schedule, my learning was facilitated greatly, and I am inspired by the exemplary lifelong learning habits of the faculty and my classmates.

SUSS has a strong social focus which is aligned with my values. Through the gerontology programme, we discovered many unmet needs in the community. I am part of the SUSS Gerontology Student and Alumni Committee, which passionately strives and serves to make a difference in the community through collaborative projects and shared expertise.

SUSS also has a strong supportive global network where we learn, support and be supported by our peers and mentors such as Dr Carol. We are able to collaborate and support one another on many initiatives. It has been exponential growth indeed. 

Dean: Through SUSS, we had the opportunity to understand the true meaning of impactful giving. This became the anchor for our business and our philanthropic contributions. Every gesture must be thoughtful and impactful to the people we serve.

I am honoured to be serving as the Vice-President of the SUSS Gerontology Student and Alumni committee where we can serve the community and set benchmarks of excellence for the care of seniors. For example, recognizing that more thought and consideration have to be given to the food and beverages we serve to seniors during our events.
SUSS has also helped link us up with several like-minded individuals in the social service sector so that we can leverage one other’s passion and expertise to spread our message, and people can be equipped with better ways of living bolder, stronger and happier.
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