Social workers who help cancer patients, ex-offenders among those lauded at annual awards ceremony

SINGAPORE – 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 who want 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 in his life who believed in him.

On Tuesday (Nov 23), Ms Rafidah was one of four people honoured at a ceremony organised by the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW).

The event, held at the Istana, coincides with SASW’s 50th anniversary.

Ms Rafidah received the Promising Social Worker Award, which recognises new 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 in the criminal justice system. 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.”


Ms Rafidah Mohamed Ayob received the Promising Social Worker Award. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

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

She also noted the challenges social workers face. She said: “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.”

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


Dr Gilbert Fan was one of two people who received the Outstanding Social Worker Award, the highest accolade in the field. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Dr Fan, 62, who joined the centre in 1999, was its first medical social worker. Taking up the job at National 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. 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,” he said. 

“Over the last two decades (that I have been) in oncology social work, there is not a day when I have regretted that choice,” he added.

In one case that has left a deep impression, he helped a patient with terminal illness undergo treatment to prolong his life so that he could meet his newborn child.

He has also counselled a patient over several sessions so that he could finally find the strength to ask his family for forgiveness before he died.

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.

He said: “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.”

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