My Story: Social Work and the Malay Community

“A couple of years back, a guy was turned down by MUIS – his last resort was to go to the nearby church for financial help. He got a job there, and then converted his whole family to Christians.”

“This is not the first time I’ve heard about this on MUIS. This is why I have never asked them for help.”

“I’ve been to a church before and the priest helped me through his own wallet. MUIS asks too many questions.”

When I first decided to take up Social Work as my major in NUS slightly more than a decade ago, my mother asked me if I was certain of my choice.

“Kerjan bukan senang, dugaannya banyak. Aisyah harus jaga hati orang, dan jaga diri Aisyah dari mulut orang,” she said.

(The work is not easy, the challenges are aplenty. You need to manage people’s emotions, and shield yourself from nasty comments.)

My mother’s words came from a reservoir of experience – she used to work in a mosque, her workplace for almost a lifetime. My late father too, devoted his life to serve the community as a part-time noja on weekends, up till his death a few years ago. I suppose it was not a coincidence that I chose a similar path.

Years later, her words still ring true.

As a social worker, you see the many faces of humanity walking through the doors. I remember a time when I was still fresh on the job, and an inebriated man stumbled into our office. He was gesturing violently as he slurred angry, harassing comments at me. My colleagues guided him to one of our consultation rooms. One of my other colleague offered him water, and instinctively placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. Surprisingly, he burst into tears. It took a while before he regained his composure and opened up to us.

There are also cases where you see young parents with kids in tow who visit our offices regularly. This is one of our “unspoken” cases – we don’t really talk about it in the open, but it exists. After a while, you notice the pattern where they go from community centre to mosque to welfare offices, requesting for financial assistance. What is sad is that both parents are young and able-bodied. When asked about their progress on seeking employment, it often turns into a blame game. This, in my personal opinion, was destructive to themselves, their children, and to our community even. Because it perpetuates a “beggar” mentality that spirals downwards. What’s sadder was when we discovered that the financial assistance issued was spent to fuel gambling addictions, packets of cigarettes or to purchase the latest tech gadgets – money that was requested because they said they needed cash to buy formula milk for their infant child.

Was this a challenge? Definitely. There were days when I was so emotionally down because it feels just a bit too hard.

But I’ve come to conclude that the harsh assumptions thrown online towards social workers were even more hurtful.

Case in point: I came across this article by this particular Facebook page that claims to reflects the sentiments of our community – a claim that I question the more I read what they put up, and the comments that follow. I mean, if they really wanted to help, why do they sound so batu api?

There are two main parts to their article ( (i) gaps in the processes, and (ii) gaps in service. These were then embellished with claims on how members of our community would then convert to another faith because of (i) and (ii), while the collected monies serve only to pay MUIS’ staff salaries.

Are there truths to the article?

I believe that gaps in processes do exist because there is no perfect system out there. No matter which country’s social support you look to – there are hairline faults and cases that fall through the cracks. Our jobs as social workers is to try our very best to ensure that we leave no man behind. We can definitely do better, and we will continue to do so.

But what triggered me most was how the article was so keen on discrediting the network of people involved in social assistance. What’s even worse is that when MUIS reaches out to the page for contact details, there was no reply! If they had truly cared, they would have responded so the necessary link-ups could be done. They would have helped to work things out, to make it better for the family.

Did they? No, they only sought to add fuel to the fire. It made me question their real motive.

I shared with my mother the article, enraged at the accusations against my fellow social workers in the comments section.

My mother smiled and said, “Teruskan perjuangan Aisyah, walau dikutuk, dicaci, teruskan. Kita bertugas kerana Allah, bukan kerana manusia. Sememangnya manusia tidak lari dari kesilapan. Mungkin ada kebenaran, di antara kepalsuan. Biarkan yang berfitnah teruskan berfitnah. Yang penting, Aisyah terus berjuang demi kebaikkan masyarakat.”

(Don’t let the criticism stop you from doing good. Our deeds are for Allah, and not for pleasing others. It is natural for people to make mistakes – there may be some form of truth in the article amidst the false accusations. Let those who lie, continue to lie. Most importantly, you continue to serve the community.)

This reminds me of a ST interview with our dear Mufti a few years ago, where he said what is most important is our integrity.

So to that fake MUIS page that strives to discredit the work done by social workers and adding fuel to the fire within our community – I pray that you stop your irresponsible posting and divisive efforts. Have some integrity, some amanah. Respond to agencies’ requests when asked so that together we can make sure nobody falls through the crack.

And to my fellow social workers – don’t let the criticism stop you from doing good.

May Allah reward you for your efforts.