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A look behind the scenes

By Lisa @ MSF

Lisa is a final-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University. She recently completed a seven-month professional internship at the Ministry’s Communications and International Relations Division, and spent a fruitful time as part of the close-knit media engagement team. Lisa was involved in curating many of the stories featured on the MSF Conversations blog.


Sometimes the biggest lessons are learnt in the smallest moments. These are the lessons that hit you when you least expect them, but they are often the ones that leave the most lasting impressions.

Working on this series of behind-the-scenes stories of our MSF colleagues at work was one of the projects I took on as an intern at the Communications and International Relations Division (CIRD). I did not realise it then, but it would come to be one of the assignments that taught me the most.

I remember the very first interview we did, at the start of the year.

We headed down to the Child Protective Service to meet with one of our Child Protection Officers. She shared with me about the struggles she faced in protecting children and the hostility she encountered in the course of her work.

Yet when I asked how she coped with the emotional challenges, she only responded quietly of the rewarding moments where she is able to make a difference. This was her fuel and motivation to help her through the difficult times.

As the weeks went by and I spoke to many people working in this Ministry, I began to realise that they all had one thing in common – this innate strength and ability to see the best in others, despite having to bear the brunt of their clients’ frustrations at times.

Beyond that, there seemed to be a lesson to learn each time.

“I tell myself that nothing (the families) say or do is personal, that they are simply frustrated with their circumstances,” said a senior social worker.

“I tried for a long time to get them to open up to me. And each time, I always made sure to be honest and sincere – and act more like a confidante rather than a position of ‘authority’,” said a child protection officer, who recalled the moment when a family he was working with began placing their trust in him.

And from a particularly thought-provoking conversation with a forensic psychologist on choosing to work with rehabilitating ex-offenders:

“If we do not help them, who will?”

Their words rang in my head.

For a period of time since then, I started thinking about these “moments” that they spoke of. Just how strongly and closely must they have resonated with each person working in this Ministry? For them to choose this line of work.

I began to ask myself these questions too.

At MSF, I was assigned a mentor who guided me through my internship the past 7 months. He taught me about different aspects of communications work. But more importantly, he became a friend.

I remember this one time when I told him some part of me still felt lost about what I wanted to do in the future.

And he told me this: “No one quite knows where the future will take them, but the important thing is to keep an open mind while doing the things that you believe in.”

Almost a year ago, I asked myself what I wanted most out of an internship. Then, I had decided that I wanted to be somewhere that could provide me with exposure to communications, while being able to give back to the community.

Now, I find myself asking what I want most out of a job.

During my time at MSF, I wrote, I researched, I filmed, I photographed, I designed. I was involved in a range of projects, including a chance at conceptualising and driving social media campaigns of my own. I prepared for and facilitated public events. I met with people ranging from CEOs, celebrities, volunteers – and at the very heart of it all, the people of MSF.

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Including Minister Tan!

I learnt a lot about what it takes to be in the field of communications, had the opportunity to understand the range and depth of social issues, as well as how government measures are set in place to address them.

But I think the most important lessons learnt went far deeper than that.

While any good internship could teach you practical skills, I think it takes a very different one to teach you values that can guide you in life in the long run.

That, I learned in MSF.

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“If we can help, we will”

14125204_xxlBy Li Li@MSF

As an officer in the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP), Li Li conducts conciliation during which she tries to persuade the children to maintain their parents. She also assists the elderly and their family, by referring them to other social or voluntary agencies for support and/or assistance.


 Li Li has lost count of the number of times she has been scolded by the adult children of the elderly she is tasked to help.

As she attempts to persuade these children to support their parents, the common response she gets is: “You’re just an outsider. If you’re the welfare ministry, provide the money then.”

The elderly, who approach her at her Lengkok Bahru office or who are referred to her by MPs, Family Service Centres and Social Service Offices (SSOs), are often those who are unable to support themselves. Hence, they have to struggle to get maintenance from their children.

After interviewing them, Li Li contacts the children to hear their side of the story and possibly, persuade them to support their parents. This step though is often the hardest part of the process – and her job.

In the course of trying to even speak with the children, she has had them bang the table, threaten her, and slam the door in her face when she tried to visit them at home.

“Before joining, I thought it was nice to offer help to people,” Li Li says. “But here, it’s a bit different. You try to intervene, you get scolded kaypoh[1].”

And even when she gains access into these families’ lives, she often finds herself thrown in the middle of a mind-boggling moral dilemma.

She recalls the time when a woman approached her for help after her husband became paralysed and could not work.  The case turned out to be more complicated, however, when she found that the woman was the second wife of the man. The children from his first marriage were unwilling to maintain him because they were angry with him for remarrying.

To add to that, his stepchildren – the woman’s children from her previous marriage – saw no obligation in supporting a stepfather who had not raised them up. Who then, was to be made to support their father?

Then there are the thorny cases she has seen more than once – children who refuse to support their parents because they had been abused by them when they were young. Should she still make the children pay?

Topping it all off are the misconceptions people have of her job and her role.

The elderly think she can help them get their children to support them beyond their basic needs – such as a parent who came to her wanting his child to give him money for airfare – while the children think she sides with the elderly and that she is just here to force them to pay.

Yet, despite the rough times and misconceptions, Li Li continues to strive on, contented with the compelling sense of achievement that she is able to break ground.

As an officer constantly on the ground, Li Li occasionally takes on other responsibilities, such as referring parents and children with their consent to other social or voluntary agencies for other support and/or assistance.

“If we can help, we try to help,” she says.

More than that, it is the satisfaction she gets from watching families reconcile and reconnect, as well as helping the elderly get their maintenance, that keep her on the job.

She recalls the case of an absent father who was remorseful of his past and volunteered at a senior activity centre to make amends. Believing their father was sincere in his efforts to change, his children eventually agreed to maintain him. And to Li Li, witnessing such grace and forgiveness, can sometimes be all that she needs.

[1] Kaypoh: A Singlish term, that can be used to describe a person/an action as nosy or a busybody.

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Making the world a better place with coffee

For many of us, our day doesn’t start until we have had a cup of coffee.

As such, it is no surprise that a long queue formed when a new coffee cart opened at the MSF building lobby on Tuesday (4 Oct) morning. But do not be distracted by the typical caffeinated concoctions Bettr Barista offers—it is no ordinary coffee establishment.

In 2011, Ms Pamela Chng left her job at the web consultancy firm she’d set up, and co-founded Bettr Barista to train marginalised women and youths-at-risk for the specialty coffee industry. Today, her efforts have resulted in a full-fledged social enterprise that uses coffee as a vehicle to change lives.

“We want our beneficiaries to be work-ready, to get jobs in the F&B sector, to get themselves out of the challenging situations that they are in and become financially independent,” Ms Chng said.

To date, 50 students have graduated from their barista program and she hopes to reach out to more potential students by collaborating with social service organisations.

Besides training the students to be career-ready, Ms Chng and her team seeks to empower them emotionally as well. The trainees, who range from their teens to women in their 50s, come from disadvantaged backgrounds and face many personal obstacles, from having low self-esteem to financial difficulties. As such, the training program is designed to be multi-dimensional, and includes physical training, as well as life and emotional management, on top of the students’ barista training.

Since its inception, Bettr Barista has received many accolades. It was certified by international non-profit organisation B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Bettr Barista is also the first recipient of the Arthur Guinness fund in Singapore, which supports social enterprises that are dedicated to discovering innovative solutions to address social problems.

Also, part of Bettr Barista’s revenue goes to Income Orange Aid, a program that helps ITE and polytechnic students from low-income families to fund their tertiary education. Buying coffee can make a difference in the lives of needy individuals, so why stop at only one cup?

Bettr Barista is located at level 1 of the MSF building and is open from 8.30am-6pm on weekdays, except Thursdays.

 

 

The Greatest Joys in My Life

For many parents like myself, raising our children to adulthood is akin to an emotional rollercoaster ride.

When they are born, we take delight in how sweet and innocent they are. In their formative years, we relish the time spent hearing them say their first word, and watching them take their first step.

We shed tears on their first day of school, miss them throughout the day and count down the hours until we can pick them from school.

Then the trials and tribulations come as they go through their teenage years, when we wonder how our sweet, innocent children evolved into the bundle of anxieties before us. We spend sleepless nights wondering how we can protect them from the evils of the world.

And then comes the emptiness and feelings of loss, when seemingly in the blink of an eye, they are on the cusp of adulthood, ready to leave the nest and live their own lives.

Children really grow up so fast, and I am sure that deep down, every parent wants to be there for his or her children throughout their journey to adulthood.

For many of us, this can be a challenge as we struggle with the demands of work, family and other commitments. Work-life balance becomes increasingly difficult to maintain and it is easy to get caught up in the rat race.

Parenthood certainly has its ups and downs, but my children have been one of the greatest joys in my life. Children are the embodiment of love between a couple, and the start of life together as a family.

I am glad that I was able to share many milestones in my children’s lives and that we have forged a strong bond over the years.

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With my son and daughter when they were younger

My relationship with my children has evolved over the years; from a father figure when they were young to a friend, now that my daughter and son are 20 and 16 years old respectively. Despite my busy schedule as a community leader then, and a Member of Parliament now, I consciously make and take time to be in contact with them, so that we can share our moments together — physically and virtually.

I must say, technology has really helped to complement my efforts in engaging my children. Although my daughter is now overseas continuing her studies, technology has enabled us to remain close and continue our journey in developing our family bond.

Let us dedicate this day to our children and be active and present parents. 😊

For me, I will spend time with my son watching the Causeway Challenge between Singapore and Malaysia at the National Stadium tonight. I hope you will find some time to share the joy of Children’s Day with your child.

To all the children out there, Happy Children’s Day!

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Celebrate our Children Often

I am sure that many sighs of relief and cries of joy were heard at the end of this week’s PSLE. Congrats to all our P6 students (and their parents!) who have worked so hard this past year!

To many 12-year-olds, PSLE is a time in their lives when even the most caring of parents suddenly turn into fire-breathing dragons! But of course, parents want their children to study hard and do well.

Sometimes, this may cause us to give our children too much pressure. In our eagerness to mould our children, it is easy to forget that they are not our “Mini Me”s. They are unique individuals with their own strengths and passions. Our aspirations for our children should not come at the expense of their own ambitions and happiness.

What our children really need is to feel that we are proud of them for who they are, not what they have achieved. They need us to take an interest in them as individuals, and to connect with them at their level.

For my children, whether it’s the school exams, sports or other activities they take part in, I’d often talk to them about the process, and not just focus on the outcome. I’d ask them questions such as: “How did you think it went?” “What went well?” “What didn’t go so well?” “How do you feel about it?” “How do you think you can deal with the disappointment?” “What would you have done differently?” “What did you learn from it?”

Apart from helping them to reflect and grow, it’s an opportunity to know your children better. It’s also an affirmation of how we value their thoughts and feelings, who they are and not just what they have achieved.

This Children’s Day, let’s make it a day where we affirm our children. Affirmation does not mean that we praise them for everything under the sun. Let’s focus on their effort, rather than the result. It could be a simple acknowledgement for remembering to do their chores, or picking up their toys without being told.

Children’s Day is a day where we should celebrate our children for who they are, and the joy that they bring to our lives. It’s a day to do something our children find fun, together as a family. Most importantly, make that conscious effort to affirm our children often, not just on Children’s Day!

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Doing Her Best with Each Request

By Julie @ ECDA, MSF

Julie is an Early Childhood Subsidy Officer at the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). For the past 16 years, she has been working closely with child care centres to process subsidy applications for families, which includes processing back-payment cases. She also manages public queries from the centres and parents, and follows up on relevant MP cases.


Sometimes, Julie does more than just ensuring the affordability of pre-school education, as she recalls handling the case of a mother whose action breached the Court Order.

The mother had taken her children away from a child care centre they were enrolled in, and placed them in another centre without the knowledge of the father or the grandmother, even though the mother did not have the care and control of the children.

As such, the grandmother called in – weeping and desperately seeking help to get her two grandchildren back.

But as much as Julie would like to lend a helping hand, her hands were tied.

“In this kind of scenario, we have to let them know that it is not within our authority to intervene in custody issues. With no control over such disputes, it’s best that both parties come to an agreement and settle the issue among themselves, or refer the issue to the Courts or Police, ” said Julie.

Going beyond her obligation – Julie still wrote to the mother to highlight to her about the impact of her actions and the proper manner to handle the issues instead of taking unilateral actions that will inadvertently put the children at a disadvantage.

She says that when dealing with frustrated customers like this, “We have to listen to them, understand the story behind and then do our best to render assistance.”

Even when nasty remarks were thrown at her by applicants who insist on claiming subsidies they are not eligible for, Julie does not let these remarks affect her.

Experience has taught her to handle complaints graciously – but it is Julie’s bubbly and cheerful personality that has enabled her to keep things impersonal and remain professional in her work.

Her judicious thinking is especially useful in managing certain heart-wrenching cases.

For instance, some children from low-income families may miss out on pre-school because their parents can no longer afford the child care fees. Often, these parents will require financial assistance for the children to continue with their pre-school education.

One important part of Julie’s role is to liaise directly with social workers who conduct house visits and carry out the necessary background checks on selected households. With evidence proving a need for financial aid, she will then render the appropriate assistance to the families.

Julie also shares about her encounters with cases involving disputes between parents and child care centre personnel, such as the centre delaying the application of subsidy for the parents even though the latter have submitted the forms on time.

In such situations, she says, “We do our best to help the parents because the centre’s inaction had deprived the parents of the subsidies that they would have been eligible for.” Hence, Julie also helps the centres to perform audit checks and back-pay the affected families.

Doing her best and making a difference in someone’s life – Julie explains “It’s the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get when I manage to help a family with their problem” that keeps her motivated in life.

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Determined to help them back on track

By Rouisanna @ MSF

Rouisanna is a Senior Probation Officer at MSF. She assesses the offenders’ suitability to undergo rehabilitation in the community and works with offenders placed on probation by the Court.


You might not guess that she is Probation Officer (PO) – let alone it being her first job – when you first meet her.

Her slight frame belies the determination she has to help the youth offenders under her care. Since Rouisanna first started work 4 years back, many have asked her, “Why did you choose to work with offenders?”

“Having been brought up in a rather sheltered environment, it was daunting at first to work with offenders. But I’ve always wanted to help support offenders – something about helping them called out to me,” said Rouisanna.

POs like Rouisanna work with offenders whom the Courts have deemed to be suitable for probation. They then work to best support and increase the likelihood of the probationers being reintegrated into society, while lowering the chance of them reoffending. Rouisanna, in particular, works with youth offenders residing at the Singapore Boys’ Hostel (SBHL).

Youth offenders (those below the age of 19) – who are ordered by the Courts to reside in hostels – are those assessed to be at higher risk of reoffending.

Rouisanna remembers a case where 15 year-old Luke (not his real name) was put on probation for having under-aged sex with his 12 year-old girlfriend. The case was particularly difficult as besides charges including sex with a minor and child protection concerns; the young girl was pregnant. In addition, there were a throng of issues to sort out, such as financial support and care for the baby.

Any other person might be fazed by such a high-needs and high-risk case – but not Rouisanna.

Putting herself in their shoes, Rouisanna understands the need to take things a step at a time – that includes helping the probationers overcome each complication in their lives as they come.

“Many of the probationers are from dysfunctional families themselves, and lacked proper support and guidance while growing up,” said Rouisanna.

Citing Luke’s story as an example, Rouisanna elaborates on how his father had committed suicide a few years back. His mother – the sole breadwinner of the family – suffers from chronic depression and is unable to work at times. Besides the mounting financial difficulties faced by the family, Luke has to take on a “parent role” in looking after his mother, while juggling school work and figuring out life as he grew up.

Determined to help her charges, Rouisanna shares how she tries to see the best in each youth while offering a strong and comforting presence, a listening ear and a shoulder of support for all.

“I see the probationers not as ‘cases’ but as people,” said Rouisanna. “I want to establish a relationship of trust, so that they would turn to me for support.”

These then work together to help her build a stronger relationship with the probationers – that not only helps her in her line of work – but also bolsters her personal and professional development, as she grows alongside her youths.