NATIONAL Council of Social Service (NCSS) scholar and social worker Tan Qiu Ling came faceto-face with people suffering from dementia back in 2011, when she spent a day volunteering at a dementia day care centre as part of a print journalism module she was taking. That meeting left an indelible impression on her mind, and she resolved to help those less fortunate than herself. An active volunteer, the recipient of the inaugural Teresa Hsu Scholarship in 2012, awarded by NCSS, read for a bachelor’s degree in social sciences (social work) at the National University of Singapore. The scholarship, which pays for all tuition-related expenses, comes with a four-year bond. Ms Tan, 26, says being awarded the scholarship was especially meaningful, because she draws inspiration from the late volunteer nurse Teresa Hsu, who was widely known in Singapore and overseas for her lifelong work of helping those with dire needs. Ms Hsu, who founded the Home For The Aged Sick in Singapore in 1965, died in 2011. “Ms Teresa Hsu was a strong role model. As a social worker, she was selfless in her contributions towards the aged sick and destitute. I was also really inspired by how she never ceased her good works even after she became a centenarian. “Her passion and dedication reminded me that being a social worker is not really just a job, but more of a lifelong mission,” says Ms Tan.
For Ms Tan, the scholarship came with an added bonus — the opportunity for secondment across the social service sector during the bond period. “This helps us gain more exposure as social work practitioners after graduation,” explains the scholar, who is also on the Sun Ray scheme. Under the Sun Ray scheme, NCSS centrally employs and develops a core group of social service professionals with the potential to lead organisations. NCSS will work with these select individuals on their postings across organisations and sub-sectors to develop rich, cross-sector experience. Currently, Ms Tan is a social worker at the South Central Community (SCC) Family Service Centre, where she focuses on partnering with families to work towards transformational change.
“SCC’s community-centric casework means engaging families as contributing members in the community and empowering them to be self-sufficient by linking them up with needed resources. “I also work with my colleagues from the corporate engagement and community social work teams, among others, for this purpose,” she shares.
A gratifying career
Social work is an immensely satisfying job, says Ms Tan. She recounts a particularly touching encounter. “I visited a family with seven children facing financial difficulties. It was dinner time and everyone was home. “The place was bustling — as it turned out, the children’s father was cooking crabs for the family as part of his monthly payday celebration. “Their simple yet palpable joy touched me deeply. The family was very welcoming and generous; they offered me some of their food.” A year on, the same family welcomed her into their humble abode again, this time sharing with her not just food but a precious recipe. “This time, the mother offered me her home-cooked sambal prawn and stir-fry cabbage. The food was delicious and she happily shared her recipe, even for the gravy. Through the meal, I truly experienced how it feels to connect with them at a personal level,” she says. The family’s spirit of generosity and hospitality inspired her. It is cases like these that keep Ms Tan going, despite the many challenges the job brings, chiefly the emotional and mental strain of managing difficult cases on a daily basis. “Remaining clear-headed and detached is always a challenge in our line of work, where we often encounter strong emotions from the families we serve. Many of them are frustrated by their predicaments and some are quite disenfranchised as a result of their life experiences, and this can, in turn, have an impact on us,” she says.
Heeding the call
For Ms Tan, social work is a calling, one where the interesting aspects in her job more than make up for the challenges. One perk is that she gets to meet a wide range of people “from different walks of life and backgrounds, many of whom have many hidden talents,” she says. Ms Tan says those considering a career in the social service sector must possess a key quality — perseverance. “It plays a very big part in getting through the initial learning curve or when everything gets too much. It is not easy having to deal with others’ issues on a day-to-day basis. On top of that, you need to remain calm and composed when there is a crisis,” she adds. Ms Tan advises those who want to follow in her footsteps,: “Make time to volunteer in various settings, to better appreciate the unique challenges, and also to find out which target populations you work well with.”