Left: Zakiyah Ibrahim is a Social Service Scholar, currently serving her second posting as a Senior Social Worker at Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre, a programme by Montfort Care. She holds a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University, USA.
Right: Felicia Tham Ye Ning is a recipient of the Social Service Scholarship, currently serving her first posting as a Speech Therapist at AWWA Ltd. She holds a Master of Speech Pathology from Curtin University, Australia.
The Social Service Tribe is made up of more than 15,000 professionals working in over 450 social service agencies, supporting people in need across five main social service areas: children & youth, disabilities & special needs, families, mental health, and seniors. With over 30 job roles available, individuals can discover opportunities to make a meaningful impact across diverse career fields. These include different specialisations like social work, psychology and therapy.
Social Service Scholars Zakiyah Ibrahim, Senior Social Worker, and Tham Ye Ning, Felicia, Speech Therapist, share with us their stories and inspirations that spurred them to embark on a career in social service.
Why did you join the social service?
Zakiyah: I was fortunate to grow up learning and witnessing the value of compassion in my everyday life. My father was a welfare officer in the Singapore Boys’ Home. My mother sold food in a high school canteen. They treated all youths with respect, even those society labelled as “troubled” or “delinquents”. My parents inspired me to work in a field that enables me to be compassionate and to treat everyone with respect, despite what society thinks of them.
Felicia: Prior to this I had worked as a process engineer at a pharmaceutical company for 1.5 years. I found that I enjoyed the collaborative work and problem solving, however I wanted a career that would really allow me to establish a more personal connection with the clients at the end of the line. At that time, I had known about Speech Therapy and decided to revisit the idea of pursuing it. Hence, I met up with some speech therapists and arranged for several job-shadowing sessions. Talking to practising speech therapists and seeing them at work made me certain that this was what I wanted to do.
Can you tell us about a memorable experience you’ve had?
Zakiyah: I once had a challenging case where a husband was not happy with my involvement with the family and for emotionally supporting his wife. He had told me to back off and not meddle with his family affairs. I continued working with his wife and children, but strategically. Eventually, I had to transfer the case because I was leaving the agency. But I bumped into the family a few years later, and the husband came up to me and thanked me for saving his marriage and his family. It was unexpected, but also heartening. I’ve learnt something new from every client that I’ve worked with, and the most rewarding experiences are when clients remember you after you have closed the case for some time, and when you least expect it.
Felicia: I once had a client with a degenerative condition that impacted her speech and ability to swallow. When we first met, her caregiver shared his unhappiness and scepticism about the effectiveness of intervention due to the poor prognosis. I made sure to listen to their perspectives and focused my initial efforts on building rapport. During therapy, I sometimes questioned if I had been doing enough for her. However, in our last session together, my client expressed her gratitude, and her caregiver shared that he had not seen my client being so motivated and excited to attend therapy sessions in many years. I struggled to hold back tears. At that moment, I felt thankful to have known them, and that I had been there for her by having simple conversations, sharing joy in using materials she enjoyed (my client loved everything teddy bear-related) and offering some comfort in moments of physical discomfort (my client frequently had nausea and dizziness).
What opportunities did you receive with the social service scholarship?
Zakiyah: Being a scholar provides me with opportunities to network with and learn from other social services professionals and leaders in the sector.
Felicia: As a scholar, I get to attend organised events to meet new people from various professions and levels of experience. These are good learning opportunities for those keen to enhance their knowledge of the sector, network with other professionals, and even to learn more about social service leadership.
What drives you to do what you do every day?
Zakiyah: That I am working with people and that my actions, no matter how small, can impact their lives. I don’t hope or expect my clients’ lives to change drastically. Still, I do believe I can make a small difference in their lives, which I may not get to see immediately, but perhaps in future.
Felicia: I love seeing the smiles on my clients’ faces when they realise that they’ve finally achieved a goal. I also cherish the relationships formed with teachers and parents and feel heartened when they tell me about the changes they’ve noticed. These are the things that keep me going, even when it gets tough.
Everyone experiences setbacks or burnout—what motivates you to keep going whenever you feel that way?
Zakiyah: These feelings remind me of my own vulnerability and my humanness, and that it’s okay to take a step back and take breaks whenever I feel burnt out and unmotivated. Recognising my vulnerability helps me to understand what my clients go through, and to acknowledge that we all have bad days.
Felicia: Whenever things get tough, I remind myself of why I joined the social service sector – to help the clients who need it the most. I think of my clients and how they really require the support. These thoughts help me continue to push through and make the hard work feel worthwhile.
What advice would you give to fellow social service professionals to keep at it?
Zakiyah: Be realistic in your role. You have to acknowledge that the clients you are helping are people with their own strengths and resources, and you are only there to support them in their journey. Also, always be kind to yourself first!
Felicia: Remind yourself why you are in your role. Whenever you question whether you’re doing enough, remember that your work has directly impacted your clients and their families one way or another. You are doing what you can within the best of your capabilities. Take a mindful break and keep pressing on!
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