Woman behind Pave on mission to help families

She set up Pave, the first family violence specialist centre in Singapore and has made it her mission to stop the pain and hurt that families go through.
Dr Sudha Nair (left) and Megan Loy are nominees of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2016 award.
Dr Sudha Nair (left) and Megan Loy are nominees of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2016 award. PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

She has devoted 30 years to social work and set up first family violence specialist centre

Last year, Dr Sudha Nair became the first social worker to be elected a member of the Public Service Commission.

It was another milestone for the woman who has been involved in social work for 30 years.

Dr Nair, who received her doctorate in social work from the National University of Singapore in 2006, said: "I do what I do because I'm very passionate about the cause. From the time I graduated in 1986, I knew social work was what I wanted to do."

In 1987, she became a social worker, and later started a before- and after-school care programme at Ang Mo Kio Social Service Centre, now known as Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre (FSC).

She remembers an eight-year-old boy who once walked into her workplace, murmuring and making unintelligible noises.


Dr Nair, who became the first social worker to be elected a member of the Public Service Commission last year, said that "I do what I do because I'm very passionate about the cause". ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

LIFE'S WORK

I've made it a lifelong mission to stop the pain and hurt that these families go through.

DR SUDHA NAIR, executive director of the Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence, which she started in 1999.

"My first impression of him was that he was a very angelic and pleasant child, until I realised he wasn't responding to anything."

He and two older siblings were part of the programme she started.

"Later on, we realised he had many behavioural issues. He was quietly destructive, like he would break the toilet bowl at our centre.

"His school also thought he was being difficult. He would go into the staffroom and eat teachers' food, set off the school's fire alarm or fall asleep in class."

He was facing deeper problems at home, she soon learnt. His mother was abused by her husband while pregnant with him, and the boy later became a witness to the family violence. He also had a hearing disability, affecting his ability to speak.

"It was a cruel world for him - he would be crying and staying up the whole night to protect his mother," said Dr Nair, 58.

For the next two years, she worked with the family to resolve the marital problems and the children's behavioural issues, and helped to place him in a special education school to get more support.

"Today, the boy has finished his education and is in his early 30s working as a waiter in a restaurant. The family is also doing well," she said.

It spurred her on to do more.

Another case of a woman who had been abused by her husband repeatedly over seven hours drove her to start the Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence (Pave) in 1999, the first family violence specialist centre in Singapore.

Dr Nair is now the executive director of Pave, which was officially registered in 2002. It provides legal and counselling services to victims of family violence, and even abusers.

Her work has helped to shape public policy in social services, and many programmes she started at Ang Mo Kio FSC became nationalised.

"I've made it a lifelong mission to stop the pain and hurt that these families go through, as much as I can," she said. "There has to be hope for them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2016 award: Meet two more nominees '. Print Edition | Subscribe