Social service sector veterans lauded
Former executive director of Rainbow Centre receives the Social Service Fellowship for work with special needs kids. Minister says: 'Her work paved the way for thousands of kids'
At one time, people thought they were just children with special needs. But look, they are just like you and me now.
- Mrs June Tham, who received the Social Service Fellowship yesterday for her work in the field of special-needs children
She watched a child who had poor trunk control finally lift his head after months of therapy.
But it was not the act of lifting his head that touched Mrs June Tham, who was then the executive director of Rainbow Centre, a voluntary welfare organisation that runs two special schools in Singapore.
Mrs Tham, 65, said: "The moment he was able to lift up his head, the whole world expanded for him. To me, that's quality of life for this child.
"When you see a child improving and have a better quality of life, it's very meaningful."
Such moments were what kept her going for nearly three decades in the special needs field, before she retired from her executive director role in 2014.
Her dedication earned her the Social Service Fellowship, which was awarded yesterday to an inaugural cohort of 20 social service veterans.
Launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), the Fellowship recognises accomplished social service professionals. (See report, above.)
In his speech, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who presented the awards, recognised the contributions of Mrs Tham, who had spearheaded efforts to ensure children with special needs received comprehensive support for their development.
Said Mr Tan: "Her hard work has paved the way for thousands of children to be served through Rainbow Centre's programmes over the last 27 years."
To continue contributing, Mrs Tham became an associate trainer in special needs and leadership after retiring.
She told The New Paper: "As a Fellow, I look forward to this opportunity to share my insightful experiences to help contribute as much as I can to move this sector forward, to inspire the next generation in the social service sector."
Although she has never thought of entering a different field, Mrs Tham conceded there were times when self-doubt grew strong.
But simple gestures of appreciation quickly cleared those doubts.
She said: "There were days when I would ask myself, 'What am I doing here?'
"But every time I needed to answer that question, I would take a walk around the classrooms. Along the corridor or in class, the students will go 'Hello, Teacher June'.
"That's how I know why I am still here."
Two of her ex-students still keep in touch with her through WhatsApp and Facebook.
"One of them even asked me for advice. He's growing up, you see, and he had something he wanted to talk to me about. I never expected them to still keep in touch with me.
"At one time, people thought they were just children with special needs. But look, they are just like you and me now," she said.
Looking back, Mrs Tham acknowledged that the social service sector has improved by leaps and bounds.
"There was no training, no government funding. We depended on donations. We didn't have trained therapists or psychologists...
"Now, we see a collaboration - with Community Chest, the Government, and families coming together to provide services in this sector.
"With a better salary scale, better education and better awareness, I would say we have a better chance now to reach out to students who may consider working in this field," she said.
She said one way the sector can improve is to have more collaboration between professionals and organisations to create a bigger impact.
Her sentiment was echoed in Mr Tan's message to the Fellows at the ceremony yesterday.
He said: "I encourage Fellows to take the initiative to work with one another and to bridge professionals, organisations and even sectors, as collaboration is a key enabler to improving service delivery and standards...
"I urge you, as our sector's leaders, to foster a collaborative culture within and without the sector, and be our helping hand in elevating the sector's image and professional capabilities."
What is the social service fellowship?
The Social Service Fellowship (SSF) was launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) last year to recognise the top echelon of social service professionals.
Fellows are appointed for a three-year term and will receive an annual Service Recognition Allowance of $12,000 for their professional expertise and social service sector-wide contributions. The first 20 were appointed yesterday.
They are expected to contribute their expertise to the sector.
- Playing key roles in professional practice development or research projects driven by MSF or NCSS;
- Sitting on committees or interview panels of MSF and NCSS as experts;
- Mentoring other social service professionals; or
- Sharing their experiences at outreach sessions at institutes of higher learning.