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Helping disadvantaged children: What drives her passion to be a social worker
By Pearlyn Tham
Brought up in a low-income family, SUSS scholar Ms Valerina Tang wants to help others in a similar situation. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

Even before this SUSS scholar graduates, she has gained invaluable volunteering experience

A guitar can be more than just a musical instrument. For Ms Valerina Tang, it was also the tool that she used to bond with the beneficiaries at REACH Youth Service (REACH).

Being a music mentor was one of the ways she fulfilled the community engagement hours as part of her studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). The programme is mandatory for graduation and lets students collaborate with various external organisations as a way to give back to society.

Ms Tang, who plans to work in social services, is in the third year at the S R Nathan School of Human Development at SUSS, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work. The 24-year-old is also on the Tan Sri (Dr) Tan Chin Tuan Scholarship which funds her education.

She had also heard from her seniors that scholarship holders have additional opportunities to network and gain more experience through attending scholars’ receptions as well as volunteering with charities that the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation supports, and doing media interviews.

“These experiences allow me to share more about myself as a SUSS scholar, a social work student, and what I am passionate about. They can also expand my network and resources,” shares Ms Tang.

She had actually studied optometry at polytechnic, but after taking a break and doing a course on Christianity, she realised that she wanted a job that would let her help others in need and be out there on the ground.

The Community Engagement Programme is one of the main reasons why Ms Tang applied to study at SUSS. Those pursuing a full-time degree in SUSS need to participate so they can gain more experience and apply what they have learnt in the classroom to real-life scenarios.

“Community engagement allows me to gain more experience related to my field. In this way, I believe SUSS provides a more holistic education,” says Ms Tang.

Having been brought up in a low-income family herself, she can empathise with children and youth who are in need.

“I want to empower others in a similar situation,” she says.

By teaching the youth at REACH to play their favourite songs on the guitar, Ms Tang built rapport with them. Over time, they felt comfortable to share their joys and struggles with her – both in school and at home.

For her second community engagement project, she chose Rainbow Centre where she attended and co-facilitated classes for kids with developmental needs. Concurrently, she also volunteered at the student care centre.

Through hands-on interactions, she was able to build connections with the students while learning more about how every child has different needs.

“I have a heart for children,” she says. “It was interesting to be able to participate in classes and show love to the children by teaching them and caring for them.”

In the next five years, she hopes to find a job in a social services agency that reaches out to children and their families.

Insights into social work

On top of community engagement, all SUSS full-time students must also fulfil a mandatory work attachment of at least 24 weeks.

Ms Tang’s first work attachment was at Parkinson Society Singapore where she picked up new skills in planning large-scale charity events like golf tournaments and providing support for members’ physiotherapy and online speech therapy sessions, along with online singing sessions.

“This gave me an opportunity to talk to those with Parkinson’s and learn more about their life journeys living with it,” she says.

Her second work attachment has to be completed before she graduates.

Despite having only attended virtual classes since she enrolled at SUSS during the pandemic, these work and volunteer experiences with external organisations have given Ms Tang the chance to meet those who are working in the industry and gain insights into the field. 

SUSS’ other pull factor was the option to do a minor in psychology.

“While social work helps you understand how an individual, group or community interacts with their environment, psychology helps you to understand the human psyche and one’s cognitive functioning,” shares the scholar.

She also appreciates the unique student population at the university, where working adults taking part-time courses get to team up for projects with full-time undergraduates.

“These part-time students who have full-time jobs are already on the ground and can share practical insights which we can learn from,” says Ms Tang.

“All these experiences and networking will not only help to build my portfolio, social network and resources, but they can also give me an edge in my job hunting and career progression in the future.”

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