About 250 social sector leaders attended a dialogue session on Wednesday with a veteran social worker. The veteran was none other than former president S R Nathan. In the two hour session, Mr Nathan recounted his days as a medical social worker in the 1950s when poverty was rampant. He recalled dealing with migrants in their youth who had lost touch with their motherland. "They had a lot of problems later in life, they lived in ghettos and no one would care for them," he said.
Before becoming Singapore's sixth President, Mr Nathan graduated with a diploma in Social Work from the University of Malaya. He was a medical social worker and a Seaman's Welfare Officer and eventually helped to set up the Singapore Council of Social Service, the predecessor of the National Council of Social Service which now oversees over 400 voluntary welfare organisations in Singapore.
During the dialogue, Mr Nathan reaffirmed the role of foreigners in Singapore's social sector. Singapore has historically benefited from the generosity of foreigners, he said. "Many charities have their origins in the wives of businessmen and wives of corporate leaders who started them," he added, raising the example of the Asian Women's Welfare Association (AWWA) which was founded by Ms Shakuntala Bhatia, wife of Mr Prem Bhatia, the Indian High Commissioner to Singapore then.
Mr Nathan also noted a need for trained volunteers, aside from professionals in the social work sector. "So long as we are in this world, there will be problems you can throw money at but there would be no solution, people need care and comfort. They need to know that we are walking the road together with them," he said.