As the child of a prison officer, Ms Siti Madinah Mohamed Salim grew up in prison staff quarters, close to where inmates who had committed various crimes were incarcerated.

“This made me wonder how they got into prison, how it would change them and how their families were coping while they were inside,” says the 32-year-old social worker.

She encountered more people with troubled lives during an internship at the Syariah Court when she was pursuing a diploma in Islamic law at Ibnu Sina Institute of Technology in Malaysia. “I observed couples with different needs and issues applying for divorce. There were many emotional moments when the divorces were finalised and I often wondered if more could have been done to save their marriages,” she says.

In for the long haul
These experiences led Ms Madinah to think about a career in social work. When a friend told her about the Social Service Scholarship offered by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) during the final year of her degree course in Islamic law at the Al-Azhar University in Egypt, her interest was piqued.

After she completed her studies and returned to Singapore at the end of 2009, she applied successfully for the scholarship.

A temporary stint at a Malay Muslim organisation after her return cemented her decision to join the social service sector. “Again, I observed a lot of families in need and from there I felt that I could do this as a profession,” she says.

On the scholarship, she studied at the Social Service Institute for a bachelor’s degree in social work awarded by Australia’s Monash University. This programme is no longer offered at the institute.

Upon graduation in 2013, she started work at Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centres Community Services. The scholarship required her to serve a four-year bond in a social service organisation.

During that period, she was also accepted into the Sun Ray scheme following a career dialogue with NCSS. “In this scheme, I am given the opportunity to go for leadership training, mentoring and coaching, and as a result, it allows me to network with various leaders and community partners to broaden my perspectives,” she says.

Gaining experience
In February, she was seconded to SPD, formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled, where she is currently working as a social worker in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC).

At the two places she has worked since graduating, she has gained experience in different areas.

She says: “At the family service centre, I handled cases dealing with a wide range of issues, such as financial, behavioural, marital and family violence. Currently, in EIPIC, I am more focused on working with parents and caregivers of children with special needs such as autism, global developmental delay and speech delay.

“Each journey with a client is different and meaningful. I feel that I learn and gain as much as the client as we work together to build resilience and overcome challenges. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when my clients are able to achieve their goals.”

She remembers, in particular, a case involving an elderly woman and her daughter who was in university at that time. They lived in a rented room and had limited money for food and daily expenses.

“After a few years journeying with them, it was satisfying for me to hear from the daughter that they were doing fine and did not need further assistance. The daughter had secured a job as a primary school teacher and her pay was sufficient to support her mother and herself. I am happy that, in some small way, I have made a positive contribution towards someone’s life,” she says.

Another aspect of the job that Ms Madinah enjoys is being part of a team focused on one main goal — “the well-being of the client”.

She elaborates: “We have all heard about the many helping hands approach, which means there are other resources available that clients can tap for further assistance. As a social worker, I tap these resources as well so that I have other professionals working with me towards the best outcome for the client.

“This common purpose makes for a good working environment and a great source of motivation during challenging periods.”

She hopes to have a long and productive career in this sector. She is also mindful of the need to give back, having enjoyed the privilege of a scholarship. “Accepting a scholarship means that there is a responsibility for you to do as well as you can and contribute as much as you can back to the community,” she says.