Across the Social Service Tribe, teams of professionals work together every day to help improve countless lives. AWWA is one of many organisations that empower communities in need– providing services such as early intervention for pre-schoolers, education and disability support for children with special needs, assistance to low-income families, as well as health and social assistance for vulnerable seniors.
To help clients with special needs such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophies integrate into their schools and communities, AWWA provides rehabilitation through sports under the Community Integration Service (CIS). This is one of many beneficial programmes that has helped individuals like Peter Kam and Muhammad Shahidil Bin Saidi make it as players on Singapore’s first cerebral palsy football team: the CP Lions
We speak to Joice (Clinical Head Physiotherapist), Bhavani (Senior Occupational Therapist) and Manikandan (Physiotherapist) to find out how their team effort made a difference in the lives of their clients, including those who would one day become part of the CP Lions.
Meet some of the faces at AWWA. (L-R) Manikandan, Bhavani and Joice.
Hello! Tell us about your current roles.
Joice: I’m a Clinical Head Physiotherapist, and I oversee the quality of therapy provided by physiotherapists across different programmes. As AWWA serves as a therapy hub, we also provide therapy support service to other social service organisations.
Bhavani: I’m a Senior Occupational Therapist. I am involved in training and developing therapists to serve clients in vision rehabilitation.
Manikandan: I’m a Physiotherapist at AWWA School. I support students with multiple disabilities in improving their gross motor skills.
What is teamwork like as a Social Service Professional?
Bhavani: Across our sector, Social Service Professionals work in teams. Here at AWWA, each team comprises a Physiotherapist, Speech Language Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Psychologist, Education Guidance Officer and Social Worker. Every professional on the team contributes towards planning a programme specific to each client’s needs.
How did you help your clients get started at football and other sports?
Bhavani: If we have a client who is keen on a particular sport, our team – comprising different professionals – will meet to assess our clients, and adapt the chosen sporting activity to our clients’ needs and abilities.
Joice: We wanted sports to be a recreational activity with a therapeutic component. Our clients were really the ones who first inspired us to put together a football team. When our clients told us they wanted to play competitively, we collaborated with SDSC (Singapore Disability Sports Council), and they formalised our trainings as a sports programme. Now we have other sports on our roster, like badminton, para-canoeing, and hand cycling. We collaborate with SDSC to make sports accessible for our clients.
Through the sports programmes, clients with special needs learn to build self-esteem and confidence,
says Manikandan (pictured left).
What were some challenges you overcame in your clients’ football journey?
Manikandan: We had to gain the support of our clients’ parents. They wanted to make sure these sports activities don’t get in the way of their children’s education. But they trust our team of professionals because we often discuss our clients’ needs with the [school] teachers. Eventually, the parents began to understand our vision. When they saw their kids growing in confidence, they realised how meaningful the training sessions were.
What was most rewarding about helping the boys who became part of the CP Lions?
Bhavani: As a therapist, I saw them grow and gain personal independence. They also learned to build better rapport and relationships with their peers. Over time, they overcame their fears, and began to show leadership.
Manikandan: They also learned sportsmanship. They started to take difficulties in stride and were able to calm themselves. Instead of focusing on their limitations, they built self-esteem and confidence. When assigned roles on their team, they began to work towards fulfilling those roles.
How does it feel to see your clients enjoy their sport?
Joice: When [the CP Lions] won the KL Futsal Tournament – their first overseas match – it was a really great moment. As their therapist, trainer and team in-charge, I really enjoyed the victory with them. I still remember their excitement after the match – the twinkle and glory in each one of them. They shed tears of joy! It meant a lot to them.
Bhavani: Seeing our clients build their self-worth and team spirit by going beyond all differences and challenges to achieve a common goal… it is rewarding to see them grow.
Collaborating is a natural part of the job – which makes it easy to get input from different professionals on the team, says Bhavani (pictured centre).
Why is a trans-disciplinary approach to teamwork so important?
For a start, even though we’re independent professionals who also work with clients on our own, there are always a lot of conversations going on all the time to see what and where the gaps are for each client – in terms of rehabilitation, participation in school functions, and community involvement. We go beyond what we know to seek the expertise of other professions.
: During our goal-setting sessions, each and every client is assessed within the team. Based on each professional’s input, we put together a plan for each client that can help them achieve a set of skills through participation [in various activities or therapies].
What inspires you about working in social service?
I’m driven by teamwork and cross-team discussion. In other sectors, professionals may have to make appointments for discussions. Here, we can readily approach each other. Through this trans-disciplinary approach, we also teach and learn from one another. This kind of collaboration is very fulfilling.
On its own, physiotherapy has its limitations. For some clients to progress holistically, they may need another professional’s input, like an Occupational Therapist. That was the team support I didn’t have when I was an independent Physiotherapist at an outpatient clinic [in the private sector]. Whereas in social service, I can ‘close the gaps’ for the client by addressing his needs directly with a colleague who is an Occupational Therapist.
In the social service sector, a trans-disciplinary approach gives more opportunity to skill-share among different disciplines.
What’s a misconception that people often have about social service?
People always think there are limited opportunities to learn and develop in social service, especially in the clinical areas. That’s not true. In the private sector, your focus may only be on limited areas. In social service, we are exposed to a wider range of avenues. Our trans-disciplinary approach gives us opportunities to skill-share and learn from the different disciplines.
Do you have any words for someone interested in social service as a profession?
It’s a meaningful profession – we learn, grow, and see others grow. It’s about people giving to people.
What does it take to be a Social Service Professional? Watch our video about the team that makes lives count here.