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Words to live by - Your children will learn from your example

18-Sep-2010 (Sat) Saturday Special Report, The Straits Times

By Wong Kim Hoh

Daisy Vaithilingam
Retired medical social work pioneer and lecturer

Miss Daisy Vaithilingam points to her appointments for August and it shows a busy month, with almost every day taken up. Not surprising since she turned 85 on Aug 13, and everyone's clamouring to take her out to celebrate the occasion. 'I'm very lucky to have so many caring friends and relatives,' says the medical social work pioneer in her three-room Toa Payoh flat.

The youngest of four children, Miss Vaithilingam says she was inspired by her late parents, especially her stepfather, a kindly doctor, to help the poor and needy. Her mother was a nurse.

Her calling allowed her to leave giant footprints in Singapore's social work scene. She initiated the first fostering scheme for children, assigning abandoned children to hospital attendants and amahs for care.

She also lobbied for financial aid for parents of mentally retarded children, helped set up the Singapore Association of Social Workers and chaired the first Committee of the Care of the Aged.

A social work lecturer at the National University of Singapore for 15 years, the spirited octogenarian says she has no sense of age when it comes to doing what she wants. 'Even today, if I can, I will.'

'I helped to set up the MSW (medical social work) Department at the National University Hospital in the 1980s.

One day, a doctor referred a woman and her two brothers to me. They wanted help to find their sick mother at home.

The woman's daughter came along. I told her to wait outside but the mother said no. Then the woman started ranting about what an awful person her mother was, and why she didn't want to take care of her.

I told her: 'Please, can you see your daughter sitting there? She will do that to you when you reach your mother's age. You are being an example to her.'

I told her that her mother might not be around for very long and I said she should try to cope with the situation. 'She brought you up and you're a mother yourself. You should know how hard it is to raise children. You don't think you're going to get sick one day?'

The woman started crying.