Social workers lauded for helping ex-convicts, cancer patients

Ms Rafidah Mohamed Ayob's job as a social worker supporting former convicts is not an easy one.

But since she joined the field in 2014, the 30-year-old has helped many former offenders seeking to turn over a new leaf.

And despite her youth, she has made her mark.

She recalled having to help a man three times her age who was hard to rehabilitate because he was unwilling to change his ways.

"He wanted to start his own shop after finishing his time in prison, but he did not believe in himself because he had been in and out of the criminal justice system till then. With persistent effort, I was able to convince him that he could succeed in what he set his mind to."

Eventually, the former offender began to trust Ms Rafidah. To show his gratitude, he wrote her a letter to thank her for being the only one who believed in him.

Yesterday, Ms Rafidah was one of four people honoured at a ceremony organised by the Singapore Association of Social Workers. The event, held at the Istana, coincided with the association's 50th anniversary.

Ms Rafidah received the Promising Social Worker Award, which recognises newer social workers who have made a difference in the lives of their clients and the community.

She said: "I am heartened by the award. It has heightened the sense of responsibility I feel towards my clients. Whether it is (helping them with) employment opportunities or digital skills and literacy, there is definitely more work to be done to support these individuals."

President Halimah Yacob, who was guest of honour at the ceremony, commended social workers for their determination and hard work in helping vulnerable Singaporeans during the pandemic.

She noted the challenges that social workers face. "As social service professionals, you work hard to serve those in need, shouldering their burdens. It is important that you also remember to take care of yourselves," she said.

Dr Gilbert Fan, a master medical social worker at the National Cancer Centre Singapore, was one of two people who received the Outstanding Social Worker Award, the highest accolade in the field.

Dr Fan, 62, who joined the centre in 1999, was its first medical social worker. Taking up the job at the cancer centre was a leap of faith for him.

"During the time that I worked at National University Hospital and Changi General Hospital before that, I shied away from working with patients with terminal illnesses," he said.

"But I told myself: As a social worker, you have to face the things you are afraid of so you can give the best help to your clients."

While Dr Fan is grateful for being recognised for his work, he said the award also helps to draw attention to the efforts of social workers.

"Social work has adapted to changing circumstances and developed over the years. The award is a testament to the value of social work in society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2021, with the headline 'Social workers lauded for helping ex-convicts, cancer patients'. Subscribe