BORN
1935

DIED
2019

INDUCTED
2021

CATEGORY
Community/Social Work

THE HONOURED INDUCTEES TO THE SINGAPORE WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME

MYRNA BRAGA-BLAKE

Pioneering social worker, educator, and activist

Myrna Braga-Blake was a pioneering social worker and a dedicated teacher and mentor. In her career spanning more than four decades, she played a key role in shaping services for victims of domestic violence and in training and nurturing generations of social workers.

Born in Singapore, Myrna was educated in Ceylon and India where her family took refuge during the Second World War. Returning to Singapore in 1946, she studied at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. When her parents divorced and her father remarried, Myrna was sent to a convent in Australia for two and a half years and then to a boarding school in Ireland. She received her tertiary education at the Domestic Science College in Bath, England and got her teaching diploma in 1956.

While she was in England, Myrna developed a strong interest in social work because her cousin was in the field and told her about the work. Returning to Singapore, she tried to register as a student at the newly established School of Social Work. But the School was only taking in students aged at least 23, and Myrna was just 21.

The School said it would make an exception and admit her when she was 22, provided she spent the year getting some exposure to social conditions in Singapore. So, for a year, Myrna spent half the day teaching Domestic Science at the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and the rest of the time she spent at a creche, and at a youth club in People’s Park.

In 1957 Myrna was accepted as a social work student and in 1960 received her Medical Social Worker diploma. Her first job as a medical social worker was at KK Hospital, and later she worked at the Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital. At her mentor’s suggestion, she applied in 1962 for the Assistant Lecturer position at the Social Work Department at the University of Singapore. She got the job.

In 1963 she married and had a daughter in 1964. Her family then became her priority. Her husband’s work as an academic economist took the family overseas a lot. When they lived in Penang, Myrna applied to study Sociology at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). She got her Honours degree, then a Masters and finally a PhD from USM.

While in Penang, Myrna was instrumental in creating the Young Workers Community Education Project (YWCEP) in partnership with the Family Planning Federation. The YWCEP sought to integrate young women workers in the burgeoning electronics industry with the surrounding community.

In her Oral History interview in 1995, Myrna said: “The project opened my eyes. Social work talks about community development, and here was community development. I saw in action what was happening and what were the constraints and what was different.”

In 1981 Myrna returned to Singapore. After years of trailing her husband as he moved from job to job in the region, she decided she needed to make time for herself. She resumed her career as a social work lecturer and immersed herself in professional and community organisations.

Myrna was president of the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW) from 1982 to 1984. As president, she edited the first and second editions of the SASW Code of Professional Ethics, setting the standards for social work practice in Singapore today.

A member of gender-equality advocacy group AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) from its launch in 1986, Myrna played a major role in setting up in 1991 AWARE’s Women’s Helpline and its subsequent development. For more than a decade she chaired the Helpline subcommittee and supervised the training of the Helpline volunteers.

When PAVE was formed in 1999 to tackle domestic violence, Myrna was a member of the first Management Committee. She went to PAVE every Friday to discuss cases, attend case conferences, help with the conceptualisation of research. She was also always available for consultation, day or night, and attended all of the organisation’s activities, formal and social.

In 1999, Myrna, together with Ang Bee Lian, received the Outstanding Social Worker award. She and Bee Lian, who is the current Director of Social Welfare at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, used their $10,000 prize money to fund a foundation programme for fresh graduates who were coming into the social work sector.

In 2005 Myrna learnt that she had Alzheimer’s disease. She continued her community work and other activities for as long as she could. Myrna died in May 2019.

MYRNA BRAGA-BLAKE

Pioneering social worker, educator, and activist

BORN 1935   DIED 2019
INDUCTED 2021
CATEGORY Community/Social Work

Myrna Braga-Blake was a pioneering social worker and a dedicated teacher and mentor. In her career spanning more than four decades, she played a key role in shaping services for victims of domestic violence and in training and nurturing generations of social workers.

Born in Singapore, Myrna was educated in Ceylon and India where her family took refuge during the Second World War. Returning to Singapore in 1946, she studied at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. When her parents divorced and her father remarried, Myrna was sent to a convent in Australia for two and a half years and then to a boarding school in Ireland. She received her tertiary education at the Domestic Science College in Bath, England and got her teaching diploma in 1956.

While she was in England, Myrna developed a strong interest in social work because her cousin was in the field and told her about the work. Returning to Singapore, she tried to register as a student at the newly established School of Social Work. But the School was only taking in students aged at least 23, and Myrna was just 21.

The School said it would make an exception and admit her when she was 22, provided she spent the year getting some exposure to social conditions in Singapore. So, for a year, Myrna spent half the day teaching Domestic Science at the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and the rest of the time she spent at a creche, and at a youth club in People’s Park.

In 1957 Myrna was accepted as a social work student and in 1960 received her Medical Social Worker diploma. Her first job as a medical social worker was at KK Hospital, and later she worked at the Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital. At her mentor’s suggestion, she applied in 1962 for the Assistant Lecturer position at the Social Work Department at the University of Singapore. She got the job.

In 1963 she married and had a daughter in 1964. Her family then became her priority. Her husband’s work as an academic economist took the family overseas a lot. When they lived in Penang, Myrna applied to study Sociology at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). She got her Honours degree, then a Masters and finally a PhD from USM.

While in Penang, Myrna was instrumental in creating the Young Workers Community Education Project (YWCEP) in partnership with the Family Planning Federation. The YWCEP sought to integrate young women workers in the burgeoning electronics industry with the surrounding community.

In her Oral History interview in 1995, Myrna said: “The project opened my eyes. Social work talks about community development, and here was community development. I saw in action what was happening and what were the constraints and what was different.”

In 1981 Myrna returned to Singapore. After years of trailing her husband as he moved from job to job in the region, she decided she needed to make time for herself. She resumed her career as a social work lecturer and immersed herself in professional and community organisations.

Myrna was president of the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW) from 1982 to 1984. As president, she edited the first and second editions of the SASW Code of Professional Ethics, setting the standards for social work practice in Singapore today.

A member of gender-equality advocacy group AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) from its launch in 1986, Myrna played a major role in setting up in 1991 AWARE’s Women’s Helpline and its subsequent development. For more than a decade she chaired the Helpline subcommittee and supervised the training of the Helpline volunteers.

When PAVE was formed in 1999 to tackle domestic violence, Myrna was a member of the first Management Committee. She went to PAVE every Friday to discuss cases, attend case conferences, help with the conceptualisation of research. She was also always available for consultation, day or night, and attended all of the organisation’s activities, formal and social.

In 1999, Myrna, together with Ang Bee Lian, received the Outstanding Social Worker award. She and Bee Lian, who is the current Director of Social Welfare at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, used their $10,000 prize money to fund a foundation programme for fresh graduates who were coming into the social work sector.

In 2005 Myrna learnt that she had Alzheimer’s disease. She continued her community work and other activities for as long as she could. Myrna died in May 2019.

“In the sixties … when we did home visits, in Chinatown there were dark rooms, no ventilation, people had nothing more than a bed, children had worms. Way out in the kampongs, there were dirt floors and terrible malnutrition, TB. You know, just incredible life situations. Having had that experience, you can never forget it. I began to see how the external structure really affects people’s choices and the options that are open to them. My first interest was in the disadvantaged rather than in women. It was only much later that I began to see the parallels between women and the socially disadvantaged.”

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW, 1995

“Social workers, we know so much about what goes on the ground, but we don’t often use this in a way that can be useful for policy-makers. We don’t translate it into language that should feed into other levels, either teaching or policy-making.”

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW, 1995

“As a social worker, she embodied the best of social work ethics and code of practice. In AWARE as well as in PAVE, she was committed to pursuing social change, particularly on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. She focused primarily on issue of poverty, and discrimination, and other forms of social injustice.”

CONSTANCE SINGAM, FORMER AWARE PRESIDENT