09 May 2017
Build it Strong

Mdm Mary Manimuthu relies on her life experiences to build trust with her students and help them become more resilient.

Since she was a child, Mdm Mary has known that her calling in life is to “instill hope in others, and to help the helpless.”

As an adult, she fulfills that calling by counselling students at Sengkang Green Primary School. She also volunteers with the Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, working with offenders.

As a school counsellor, Mdm Mary performs a wide-ranging set of duties from planning and running preventive and at-risk programmes to providing immediate interventions for pupils who have issues – such as meltdowns – in class. She also meets regularly with teachers, parents and external agencies; delivers classroom talks; and observes and checks on vulnerable students.

One of the most challenging tasks’ as a school counsellor is getting pupils who are frequently absent to come to school. These cases are often complicated by myriad sensitive issues. When this occurs, Mdm Mary goes beyond the call of duty by conducting regular home visits, during which she'll attempt to understand the situation before proposing a workable solution for all.

She also believes in positive affirmation – she stays in close touch with parents and pupils, and praises them whenever the pupil makes it to school consistently.

Establishing a stable routine and a good trusting relationship is key. Mdm Mary recalls a case where a young, single mother wasn't able to send her two children to school, as she had no other forms of family support. The mother didn’t trust the school counsellor and was both afraid and ashamed to share her struggles.

However, Mdm Mary persevered by regularly visiting her in the evenings, and eventually, the mother was touched by her kindness and genuine ways. Mdm Mary began teaching the children how to come to school independently, and even linked them up with fellow pupils staying nearby, to come to school together. After six months, the two children became regular attendees at school.

Mdm Mary's empathy for vulnerable children comes from having overcome difficult moments in her own life, such as a cancer scare, being hospitalised for exhaustion and the death of her beloved brother. In his memory, Mdm Mary wrote a book, David’s Story.

“The book is about how a boy loses his mother in an accident, and journeys through his grief with his sister and father,” she explains. “This book is especially for children and parents who have gone through a loss. It’s important to talk about our feelings and seek support from others.”

According to Mdm Mary, it’s critical that we stay optimistic, despite life’s challenges. “I’ve learnt in my life that trials, problems and unexpected turn-arounds always mould one’s character,” she says. “To be resilient in life, you need challenges. The difficult circumstances I’ve been through have humbled me, and that’s why I’m quick to connect with those who are vulnerable.”

THIS IS WHY WE SERVE: Mdm Mary is one of the recipients of the PS21 Distinguished Star Service Award at this year’s Excellence in Public Service Awards (ExPSA) ceremony. Look out for more coverage of this year’s ExPSA recipients!

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