one of my weakest links.

Excerpts from some interview with a v inspiring social worker for own future reference:

Interviewer: During your visits to Singapore for the various symposiums and workshops you conducted, you have been vocal in speaking out about how Social Workers in Singapore may have strayed from their true calling. In your view, what are your thoughts about the true calling and mission of Social Workers in Singapore?

V Inspiring Social Worker (VISW): You must watch the movie “3 Idiots”! I believe it answers the key question you asked. In a nutshell, we need to be passionate about what we do and reflect on the meaning of success. What is the reason for becoming who we are and doing what we do? I think an outstanding social worker has that “idiot’s” passion to be different and to make a difference. I cried buckets watching this movie. You watch it and tell me if it does anything to you?

For some years now, social workers in Singapore have been fighting for better salaries, and finding ways to educate the public about what we do. I think we have been successful to some extent. We should continue to negotiate for due recognition. But in the process, let us not forget what we should be and do. My fear is we may lose the respect eventually, and along with the recognition if we become too obsessed with looking for recognition. This seems to be happening. I recently heard about some stakeholders being unhappy that social workers in Singapore are not delivering at the grassroots level because they are not connected to the community.

Have we become too comfortable and inward looking with the quest for recognition? Or are we incompetent and separated from the people we serve? These are questions I will continue to ask myself. In fact, more than recognition, we need to continue to earn respect from the government, community and clients because of who we are, what we do, and what this profession represents…

…I believe in families [and missed my own family in Singapore too]. Using a systemic thinking, I find it hard not to think about families in social work since the family is one of the most important developmental contexts for all stages of life. And I feel compelled to work with families of the poor.

That is how I started out as a social worker, and this is what I will continue to do, particularly serving those who are caught in the systems, those who are less endowed with resources and support, and those who turned to addictions for a way out. I find it hard to fathom how do social workers expect their clients to visit social service agencies during office hours.

We need to reach out to people and reach into their world. We need to understand their living environment. We need to appreciate the arcades they hang out in. We need to get to know their peers whom they find solace in, etcetera. When we do, we will be amazed at how little we know and understand them. Believe me; there are many possibilities that would open up when we reach out. It is not what we think we know. It is a different world they live in, one that can be much more dynamic and exciting than we think or imagine.

I believe that the true calling of all social workers, not just in Singapore, is to respond to those who are have different needs, especially those who are less privileged or disadvantaged, or are highly distressed. With this focus, I believe social workers can make a difference, however big or small, in the lives of individuals, groups, families and communities, lest we become unfaithful angels who have abandoned our mission to aid and serve the underprivileged (Specht, 1994).

Interviewer: You have had extensive experiences working in Singapore and Hong Kong. How is Social Work Practice in these two developed Asian countries different? What lessons can Singapore gain from Hong Kong Social Work Practice?

VISW: In comparing social work development in Hong Kong and Singapore, I would like to just highlight one difference that is most apparent to me: Outreach [there I go again!].

…Social workers in Hong Kong do a lot of outreach work. They reach out to the poor in their homes; they reach out to the youths at risk on the streets; they reach out to the street sleepers under the fly-overs; and they reach out to the elderly in their hideouts.

They will go at the time most suitable and convenient for their clients, which often means odd hours of the night. Their supervisors and management however make sure they are given time off and reduce the personal risk they bear [e.g., going in pairs and providing handphones for security reporting]. I think we do not do enough of that in Singapore; correct me if I am wrong.

Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that we must sacrifice our family life or personal time. One of our top social work students quipped in his first social work class with me: “Social Work is about sacrifices”. The class had a wonderful discussion, and I can still remember how the student and I had much fun, disagreeing with each other.

I live a very comfortable middle class life now. I do not pretend that I don’t. But I have no difficulty drinking rainwater, using makeshift toilets with no drainage when I work in post-disaster Sichuan locality. And I definitely hope I will have little difficulty living with less if that is what life brings me to. I am proud of this latitude I have to enjoy life in comfort and thrive in poorer conditions. I love eating in the best restaurants, and I love eating off the streets with my clients and social work colleagues in dark alleys. That is my identity, one that is inclusive. And I want to be able to reach out to people of all walks.


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