Tatler Malaysia

Melissa Ngiam

Starting out as a volunteer at Yayasan Generasi Gemilang, Melissa had no idea this would catapult her into a rewarding career

- By Rachel Wibisana

Yayasan Generasi Gemilang is a non-profit organisati­on with a passion to improve the lives of under-served children and families by increasing access to quality education. At the helm of the service is CEO Melissa Ngiam, a former auditor who decided to take a risk. Here she reflects on her career transition, shedding light on the meaning of her work.

I was keen to try something new.

But never in my wildest dreams imagined a career in social work. I started as a volunteer with Generasi Gemilang and was later offered a staff role. At that point I had only thought of social work in either a volunteeri­ng capacity or something to pursue seriously upon retirement. The mission of GG was what attracted me to the full-time role. Through my volunteeri­ng experience, I knew there were real needs in our community. I continued on this career path because the love for the work deepens each year.

For me, it began with asking if the purpose outweighed the sacrifices.

Being honest with myself in realising I can’t have everything, will I be fulfilled with what I would have? With every big risk there is the factor of fear—our personal inadequaci­es or fear of the unknown. What enabled me to drasticall­y switch career paths was faith, not in myself, but in God.

People matter.

I am by nature results-orientated, so navigating through a people-orientated sector is tricky. I remember I used to be so focused on the work that some of the words I used or decisions I made, despite with good intentions, were not always communicat­ed well and had even discourage­d the people I valued working with. It is through these conflicts that I am learning to communicat­e with more kindness, and to put people before programmes. I am learning to give feedback that builds a person up instead of the opposite.

There was a 15-year-old girl who could only write the alphabets to her name.

That shocked me because I couldn’t comprehend what life would be like for her without basic literacy. This is why access to quality education is so important to us. It is our hope that every child can receive what they need in order to have a better future.

There are no short-cuts.

We have over 200 volunteers who commit to teach for at least 10 sessions in a year. Many of them have far exceeded that commitment. This commitment has resulted in genuine relationsh­ips built with the children they teach. This relationsh­ip is why the children are excited to attend the classes and why our volunteers dedicate time to adopt new teaching styles to ensure no child is left behind. And these volunteers are the reason we see changes in the lives of the children and their families.

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