But their work doesn’t stop there. Beyond providing day-to-day support to those in need, Social Service Professionals from AMKFSC Community Services Ltd. (AMKFSC) took the initiative to promote healthy eating among low-income families.
That was how Project Pilih Pilih was born.
The consistent impact made by Project Pilih Pilih is a testament to the teamwork that goes behind it. The team behind Project Pilih Pilih comprises Social Service Professionals in various stages of their careers, with varied job scopes – yet each is equally committed to a common cause. Led by Mabel (Assistant Senior Social Worker), the core team is rounded out by Yong Xin (Social Work Executive), Maggie (Receptionist) and Nathan (Social Work Associate).
Yong Xin: We started the initiative in 2016. Pilih Pilih means choose choose in Malay. Project Pilih Pilih began when we realised that the bulk of donations comprised non-perishables like canned food and instant noodles. Those aren’t healthy in the long run!
We wanted to give low-income families the chance to choose healthier fresh food options. Thus, we approached market vendors to donate fresh food items, and re-distributed them to the families. It’s like a mini-supermarket. People can walk in and choose the items they want.
Mabel: Project Pilih Pilih started off with three people, and now it’s expanded beyond the four of us. We have community partners and volunteers – both ad-hoc and from SP Group – to support us with manpower, transport and cash donations. We have plans to increase the number of workers on rotation due to the growing physical intensity of the operations! Right now, we’re running it bi-monthly.
Mabel: I coordinate community partners, liaise with the AMKFSC management, as well as control the programme’s budget and expenses. Maggie and Nathan help us by contacting our clients to remind them of our distribution dates and times, as well as make delivery arrangements if they aren’t able to make it.
Yong Xin: I liaise with market vendors, as well as our Social Worker colleagues – they’re the ones who nominate their clients to be part of the programme. Through food distribution, we opened up another opportunity to understand how the families are doing.
What are a few examples of teamwork in Project Pilih Pilih?
Yong Xin: Fundamentally, we have to help [the rest of] our team understand and appreciate why we started this. It’s a step-by-step process. [As a part of the team], they first need to understand the meaning and purpose of Pilih Pilih, and see it as more than a distribution project – how the programme complements rather than replace current food rations, while educating our clients on nutrition.
We also tap on each other’s skills. One of our colleagues from the other office, a Social Work Assistant, is talented at cooking and even prepares food for colleagues. So we recently asked her to do a cooking demonstration for an unpopular vegetable during distribution time, so our clients can sample the dish. More clients picked up the vegetable that day!
Clients, too, help us with cooking demos. In a way, they become part of the team. Our team is very fluid – anyone who can contribute can become part of the programme.
What was most vital to the success of Project Pilih Pilih?
Nathan: Those involved are committed to the project. We share a similar vision and strive for overall success. It takes careful planning, attention to detail and effective communication to make a project succeed. Suppliers and all stakeholders have contributed and been part of the team dynamic.
What else makes this team dynamic so effective?
Mabel: We constantly communicate, and we’re open and honest with each other. We relook issues together, on the spot or later on, to make changes for the next run. It helps to clarify roles and duties, as this creates camaraderie. With this synergy, team members will naturally take initiative to cover each other’s duties when needed.
Yong Xin: Working together as a team requires a lot of trust – we can’t micro-manage each other. We go with the flow and trust that everyone is doing their part. Forgiveness is also important. There are times we may overlook some things before the Pilih Pilih events, but we always make sure to look out and cover for each other!
What makes social service different from other industries?
Maggie: I worked in the banking sector, which has a stricter environment. I find social service very much different. We have a more relaxed hierarchical structure. There’s less competition and more empathy between colleagues – thus we have more chances to improve ourselves. The staff here serve with a heart.
Nathan: I was from the uniformed sector before I embarked on social work. Here, it’s more about serving the community – that takes team effort. It’s about understanding each other better. There’s less focus on hierarchy and more on helping each other. By tapping on each person’s strengths and resources, we learn every day. We have a lot of laughter in the office, especially when Mabel is around! You can see how we enjoy each other’s company.
Mabel: In social service, we work collaboratively to introduce change to the clients. We also constantly seek peer support as our work can be emotionally draining. When we try to resolve clients concerns all on our own, it leads to burn-out. So we have to support each other.
How do you help each other make progress at work?
Mabel: We always give each other new ideas to improve [within our roles], and we’re all open to our colleagues’ suggestions. We encourage each other to start with small changes – just taking steps to do things that are different from our job scope. We need to be empathetic not just to our clients, but to each other as well.
Yong Xin: In social service, [an empathetic] culture is built in. It starts on top with our managers. That’s why it’s somewhat implicit to anyone who joins social service. [Our work] isn’t necessarily only about professional growth. We’re all trying to overcome our own struggles and the fear of trying something new. But because of the big picture, we push ourselves and support colleagues going through the same struggles.
Mabel: They need a clear understanding of why they’re here. Is there any meaning in it for them? It’s important to have the heart for it.
What does it take to be a Social Service Professional? Watch our video about the team that makes lives count here.