Michelle Tham (right receiving her certificate of commendation for service excellence from SPD Board member, Ms Ong Toon Hui) is a social work assistant at SPD@Bedok who previously worked as a property agent and went on to pursue a degree in social work. Senior advocacy analyst Poh Sho Siam finds out more from Michelle on her decision to make a career change.
For 15 years, Michelle worked as a property agent and prior to that, she was with an insurance company. Now, Michelle is a social work assistant at SPD’s Building Bridges EIPIC Centre in Bedok.
Outside of work, Michelle is also an active volunteer. She volunteers at the Singapore Sports School where her sons are studying, and at the Residents’ Committee in Woodlands where she stays. It was on one occasion during a school outing that Michelle met two parents with children with special needs. They left a deep impression on her and Michelle decided that she wanted to do more for the community of people with special needs.
To learn more about the social service sector, Michelle signed up for training and attended courses in order to prepare for a career switch . She also started volunteering at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS) and Rainbow Centre.
Michelle very much enjoyed her time volunteering at Rainbow Centre where she had the chance to work with children with special needs in a classroom.
Through these experiences, Michelle was inspired to find a job where she could work with children with special needs.
Her passion eventually led her to a social work assistant role in SPD. Her typical work day involves administrative duties, assisting social workers at the centre and interacting with caregivers. Michelle recalled that she once saw a mother looking rather gloomy and seemed to need some emotional support. Michelle spoke to her and encouraged her. Through these interactions, Michelle was able to establish rapport and build trust with caregivers.
There was another incident where two parents wanted to withdraw their child from the programme because they were not able to send their child to the centre due to work commitments. Michelle urged the parents to reconsider their decision, and together with a senior social worker, worked out a schedule that could accommodate the parents.
“I have seen how the programme can transform a child and hence it is important for the child to continue with the sessions and not to give up easily,”
On another occasion, a caregiver showed Michelle a picture of her son carrying his bag and lying on the floor at home. The child was sick and could not attend the class but had very much wanted to come and thus, was carrying his bag in preparation to leave home for class.
It is through such experiences that Michelle finds her job worthwhile and that professionals, like herself, are making a difference to the lives of children with special needs.
Presently, Michelle is studying part-time for her social work degree and looks forward to become a full-fledged social worker. It is not easy juggling between studies and work, but Michelle is glad that her family is very supportive of her career change and for having encouraging colleagues.