Wan Ling works at EQUAL, an animal-assisted intervention centre that develops life skills in youth, people with special needs, families, and elderly with dementia.
At the Beginning
Teaching has always been my passion, and I’d been an educator for close to a decade. From helping students achieve their goals to watching them grow over the years, it’s been a role filled with both challenges and joy. I started as a tutor in my first job, then as an English and Social Studies teacher at a secondary school. Five years later, I took on the role of Level Head of the English Department.
It might come as a surprise to you that I decided I wanted a career change after eight years. While I love teaching, it was also an arduous role, and I wanted a break. But more importantly, I wanted to explore and experience other career paths that could bring me just as much, if not more, contentment.
And so I evaluated aspects of my role to decide what felt good to me. I wanted to work with people because I like connecting with others. And I also wanted to help them. During my time as a teacher, whenever students shared their lives and problems with me, I was always prepared to lend them a listening ear.
With these thoughts, I decided to pursue a Masters of Counselling, hoping to build my knowledge, while giving me more insights on how I might help people. Incidentally, during the course, I met Thomas*, who was an Instructor at EQUAL. I was intrigued. An agency that offers equine-assisted learning where I can play a part in helping others? Interesting! The role did not require any prior experience with handling horses, and I was pleased to learn that training would be offered on the job. That very week, I applied to EQUAL as an Instructor!
The experience of being an Educator and an Instructor was certainly different. For starters, I went from working with just people, to working with rescued horses as well. My role as an Instructor was to conduct programmes, and assist with the development of the curriculum and care of the horses. It was tremendously enjoyable.
As an Instructor, I also saw myself bringing aspects of my old role into my new one. There was an element of teaching in conducting the programmes, as I guided our clients as they interacted with the horses.
Nine months later, a role for Family Programme Manager opened up, and I hopped on the opportunity to expand my experience and knowledge of the work we did. In my new role, I would plan and host sessions with potential partners, including other social service agencies and schools.
I found that my previous experience as Level Head helped me assimilate easily into my current role. I was, as I had in the past, looking at the big picture of planning, developing and organising programmes on a wider scale. Managing a team also came to me easily, as I had experience managing other educators in my previous career.
Helping Others Overcome Hurdles
It’s been one and a half years since I joined EQUAL, and it’s been a ride. Altogether exciting, educational and meaningful, I couldn’t have asked for a better switch in careers. The work we do at EQUAL extends beyond our stables, and I’ve seen individuals grow and mature through our programmes.
For example, when I was working as an Instructor, I conducted a programme with youths with behavioural issues. During the programme, I had trouble reaching one of the youths, Jenna*, a temperamental 14 year old who refused to participate in any activities. However, over the course of the programme, she began interacting with Kary, one of our gentlest horses. In a span of nine sessions, it warmed our hearts to watch Jenna go from an angsty, quick-tempered teenager, to someone who gained a deep sense of self-awareness.
Working with horses does that to you—they’re sensitive creatures and require those around them to be calm and patient when interacting with them. Towards the end of the programme, Jenna had learned how to open up, articulate her feelings, and form better and deeper relationships with those around her. It was a turning point for her, and the team and I were happy for her progress.
Now that I’m a Programme Manager, I am less on the ground, but still developing programmes that will continue to provide support to individuals just like Jenna. I believe that there are many more ways I can contribute to the community through my role, and I certainly look forward to the journey.
A Programme Manager is one of many roles in Social Service. Click here
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*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.
Wan Ling speaks to her colleague about upcoming programmes.