FESTIVE SEASON FOR A CHILD IN A CHILDREN’S HOME

The season to be jolly is upon us. Everywhere around the world people who
celebrate Christmas are busy planning for the holiday. Everyone is
planning parties and planning to get together with family and friends
to celebrate. People are in a shopping frenzy…well except me. This
got me thinking about what the child in a children’s home will be
thinking at this time. Is this really a joyous time or it brings more
sadness than anytime of the year?

At this time lots of well wishers do spare a thought for the less
fortunate and this includes the children in shelters and residential
care. Lots of donations come as Christmas gifts and some even donate
their time just to make the days special for these children. There
are some host families who are prepared to have one child over just
for Christmas lunch. This makes a huge difference. This is the least
people can do and it is appreciated.

At this time a residential social worker and children’s home staff try
to get all those children who have families home to be with their
families. But what happens to the orphan? What happens to the one who
was severely abused and neglected by family that there is no going
back? What happens to the foreign child who cannot return to war-torn
DRC or is awaiting the lengthy repatriation process by the
International Organisation for Migration to their country of birth?
These are the ones that depend on the caring hearts of the community
to make Christmas day special for them. These are the ones who are
sad even as they open gifts from strangers because they wonder why
their own family could not be present at this time. The main thought
is “how festive is the season when I am away from my family?”
“All these people are nice but I wish I could see my mother,
brother, sister, aunt….” I remember when I was back at home and
my mother would take us shopping for Christmas clothes so that
everyone has a new outfit on the day. Are these the same memories
they have…? 

So this season is bittersweet. It is a pleasure for me to spend time
with the girls at my residential facility but I get to see the
sadness in their eyes. It is sad for me because there seems to be no
consolation or replacement for what they yearn for and that is to
spend time with loved ones during the festive season.  These children
are strong and they still smile through the sadness and hope for a
different year when the festive season is over. For a few though this
is the only time they have had a Christmas so for this group it is a
blessing.  I guess this year I am in the same boat because my family
is also away at home but it will never be the same. At least for me
it is not due to unfortunate circumstances that I am away from family
but I can relate.


Here’s to wishing all the children in children’s homes a Happy
Festive season and a Wonderful New Year. Who are you sparing a
thought for this festive season? My list is endless….

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DAMAGED SOUL….

                                                                 

I have seen a damaged soul….It is a
wandering, lost soul. Shattered like the image of broken glass. You
can see it in the eyes; they are cold and show no trace of emotion.
Except when you look for a longer period there you see it, the
infinite sadness beneath those eyes.

A damaged soul is hurting and therefore
they see and feel nothing but hurt. That means they hurt whatever
comes in their path. They do not know what they are doing at a
certain point in time. Insecure is their most common state of mind.
They are driven by emotion: anger, sadness, grief, hatred, revenge.
When any of these emotions set in all they can black out and cannot
control what they do. It’s all a blur of mixed up emotions, they
are not sure of themselves. This means a damaged soul can be
dangerous, like a wounded animal.

So hurt were they in the past that they
do not know what it means not to hurt anymore. They allowed what they
went through in the past to fester and corrode their soul. Their
defense is to hurt others before they get hurt….you see they cannot
handle the pain. The worst of the damaged soul is the one that
inflicts pain on themselves as well as others. It is sad and scary to
watch as someone slits their wrist, burns themselves with a
cigarette, bash their head with a bottle. It is hard to try and help
them because their limits at that point are unknown. This is how the
psychopath and sociopath are created. I am no psychologist but most
personality disorders if left unattended to can become life long
illnesses and can affect human relationships.

They say it is impossible to love someone who does not love themselves. This is the sad part because
the damaged soul craves love so much like a vampire craves blood. But
their self- destructive nature makes it impossible for them to
receive love even though deep inside they yearn for it. You can see
it in their eyes….

So I ask….What would happen if you
love them anyway? Would that somehow thaw the coldness centered in
their hearts? Would that bring warmth and a genuine smile to their
faces? If only someone had the courage to try and love a damaged
soul. For once to feel accepted as they are…flaws and all. If I
would love you as damaged as you are would you then love yourself
enough to want to want to get better for your sake, not mine?

Social Work in Africa

My Africa

 It occurred to me that my mind might think social work, but it is a different kind of social work. It is AFRICAN because I am an African. I feel proud as I write this post because the difference just dawned on me…

If you are a social worker in Africa it doesn’t mean you are doing more than a European social worker or American social worker. For me the glaring difference is the need for social work. Our client base is different, their needs are different. A child in America or Europe will bring problems like drugs, behavior(not listening to mummy or daddy) or being truant at school. Not saying these are not problems, because they are and families stuggle with these everyday. The African child will have these problems in addition to food insecurity, poverty, lack of proper housing and lack of proper education. The burden is definitely more.

Moreover the lack of resources for African social workers often complicate the work that we try to do. Working in a non-profit organisation which is struggling with funds, there is only so much one can do to holistically address client needs. The funds often come from big overseas companies. The result has been frustration caused by high caseloads and low pay and leading to brain drain as social workers flee to Europe or Australia…..greener pastures. Social work even has more recognition overseas than in Africa. Private social work has more clients overseas. in Africa people believe in community intervention through families and friends helping out. How many families pay to see a private social worker or psychologist to deal with a child’s behavioral problems??Not many in the African community.

But what can we do to change this? What agencies are supposed to be building up the social work profession in Africa so that it is also recognised and rewarded? There are forums such as the Council of Social work in my native Zimbabwe and the South African Council of Social Service Professions in South Africa. However there is not much discussion on advocating for the profession and making it more lucrative thereby attracting more social workers to stay in the country. I commend the South African government for giving bursaries for social work study, this has attracted a lot of people to study social work. However the disadvantage has been people doing it without the “calling” , just because there is a free bursary. This has reduced professionalism as these students have to work off the loan they received and are often not interested in social work itself.

I am interested in finding out about how to grow social work in Africa and linking with other social workers around the continent and sharing ideas around this. It is at this point a sad reality that there are people who do not know what social work is. Some associate social work with food parcels, if they hear you are a social worker you are there to solve a food shortage problem. There is lack of knowledge around the profession.

Growing social work starts with the love for social work and even if it begins with one, a difference would have been made. If you have an idea leave me a comment and let us discuss….

For The Love Of Social Work….

On Sunday the 18th of November the organization I work for was invited to come and be partof the  church service at St Johns’ Anglican Church in Wynberg. The aim was to have a presentation around the work that we do with female street children and those at risk of becoming street children. It was all in line with the message for that day which was focusing on God’s Redemptive Love and Power. God provides healing and hope and as such the congregation wanted a presentation of how our organization was
providing hope and healing for girls between 0-18 years of age. I was chosen to go and represent the organisation.

As I arrived at the church it was a bit nerve wrecking to see members of the senior generation making up the majority of the congregation. I thought, oh my! How am I going to make a worthwhile presentation with no one my age in sight?   It was a bit daunting because I did not think anyone would take me seriously but I just put on my best smile  that says I am confident in what I am about to share with you. It ended up being the best presentation I have ever done because the people were so pleasant, attentive and so polite. They even asked questions after I was done.I was treated like a valued guest and really reminded myself that appearances are not everything.

So I spoke about the work that I do as social worker at the organization. I had to give a bit of background on how I ended up doing social work and for how long. It was a nice personal touch which made me comfortable. I had quite a big crowd to present to but they took breaks in between so in one I had about 20 people to speak to. I realized how much I love speaking about my work; trust me when I started talking I did not want to stop. I was in my element; this is what I do and what I am passionate about. So I guess it showed because my audience was pleased.  I gave a brief account of the struggles of dealing with street children or potential street children, particularly teenagers. This includes the drugs, the suicide attempts, the truancy, the runaways, the disrespect, the emotional trauma just to name a few.  I gave a brief case study of a 12 year old girl who had been trafficked from the DRC and dumped in Cape Town after the trafficker had gotten tired of her. She now had to live in the street and this is how our organization got to hear of her plight and took her in.

I could see the crowd empathizing and understanding the depth of the work. The crowd was also feeling for the young children who are forced into adulthood due to their circumstances. In the end I got everyone to see that there are children in need of care out there and as much one child can be assisted to live a normal life you are making a huge difference. I managed to sell two books just by my presentation because it moved some people to want to know more. (My Director wrote a book documenting some of the stories and journeys of the children who have passed through the organization over the years).

I realized part of being a social worker is to be able to advocate for the profession, feel that pride for it and be able to speak on behalf of it. It is such a worthy profession and I loved the message of giving hope and redemption to those who are lost or on the path of destruction. So social work in a huge way spreads the gospel of love and supports the work of Christ.

I just beamed when one of the church ladies suggested I must need a glass of water after such a presentation,LOL. And yes I had given it my all and spoke for about 40 minutes so I was parched. The bouquet of roses i received as a “thank you” was also very welcome…

What i wore to the presentation

Looking forward to more opportunities to marvel in the joy of sharing social work.

Until then…stay blessed.

“Auntie Getrude”

Family quote (from the web)

This has become my new name ever since I became a social worker in residential care.  It is funny how the
work done with children makes one slip into a role they never thought they could slip into. Growing up and whilst doing my four year degree in social work I never thought I would one day be called ‘Aunty Getrude’ unless one of my siblings gives birth to a child. I still laugh to myself when I think about it.

During the first days I found it disconcerting to have to answer to my name paired with an auntie. It made me feel a little bit old because the children I work with are between the ages of 0-18. Especially with the girls in their late teens I still find it weird since we are just a few years apart.  I needed to understand why I could not just be called by my name. I then found out it was an issue of respect and so that the children do not get too familiar with you that they treat you like they would their peer.  I also realized with pride that my degree puts me into a position of respect regardless of my age. So I had to get used to it…

But then I really dag deeper into the meaning of “auntie” in a children’s home. When working with vulnerable children some of them come from traumatic pasts and experienced betrayal by their own families. One needs to be careful in dealing with them.  If for example when the children relate to a worker and form a relationship based on trust and mutual
understanding, it is so easy for attachment to form. Imagine if a child who has lost her biological mother or whose mother abandoned her at birth starts calling you “mummy”???? That would definitely change the dynamics because there is a certain role and expectation that comes with that name. It also becomes hard upon termination to leave a child who has gotten attached to you as a “mother”. This puts a huge responsibility on one’s shoulders and blurs the lines of professionalism. Also one does not want to replace real parents in social work; you help children rebuild their lives with the hopes of reunification with their real families where possible. So it is better not to confuse the children into thinking wherever they go they can get new “mummies”.

So “aunty” for me became the most neutral name one can adopt when working with children. It means I am here for you; I care for you even though I am not part of your biological family. “You can call me aunty”!!! I have experienced that the children too find it easier to call a stranger “auntie” when they are introduced to them the first time.

I love being “Auntie Getrude” because it shows I have a role to play in these children’s lives. My relationship with them is not superficial but it is also not trying to take the place of the real relatives in their lives. They always have to be reminded that even though they are in a care facility they still have their own families who might or might not care for them but they exist. Here are a few quotes I found on family :

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there ~Barbara Bush

Having a place to go – is a home. Having someone to love is a family. Having both is a blessing ~Donna Hedges.

Change Yo Look, Change Yo Mind!!

far view

Art

Today was a good day at the workplace. Recently our humble children’s home
got a donation to have a revamp of our look. A renowned artist known
as Faith47 (this is how she prefers to be known)joined in the project
with some stakeholders and the charitable donor, a well known
designer whom I will not name since I did not get rights to do so.

Our home for female girls whom we are trying to get off the streets  has
been turned into a beautiful art form making part of the Fringe
District in Cape Town. It was a proud moment to open the house to
visitors and friends and share our new look. I wore my perfect smile
greeting and welcoming visitors at the gate. The girls also took part
taking the visitors on a tour of the house including the offices and
the rooms. The courtyard has been painted with fresh summer colours
of green and a soft yellow and there is a wonderful transformation.

The artwork on the wall of the building for me represents hope, struggle,
strength and really moving on with life. And this is true of the work
that the social workers, child care workers and staff of the home
provide for these children. It is a home away from home, giving them
a new lease of life and paving a brighter future. I feel blessed to
have been there to experience this. Seeing the girls experiencing
this transformation has also been a source of great joy for me.

What’s in a change of look? Just like in our everyday lives if you improve
the décor in your house or change colours it brings a sense of
novelty and newness that every human being needs to experience in
order to feel human. It gives new meaning to one’s life and some
start to reorganise their mindset as well to suit the new
environment. I hope this is the same for the children I work with.
After going through so much dullness, ache and trauma they need some
sunshine and brightness in their lives. I hope the novelty never
wears off….

A lot of different meanings and symbolisms can be derived from the
painting on our wall. It means different things to different people,
if you are reading this I wonder what meaning you would put on the
painting I have shown. Let me know….

You cannot heal thyself…..

 

I returned from my leave yesterday, well rested but a bit of a wounded soul. My weekend away did not go as planned, which goes to show that as humans we can only plan our lives so far and God really just does His will. I will not go into much detail but as I write I am nursing a semi-broken heart because my long awaited leave turned into a separation between two hearts and the end of a friendship. It was not planned but everything happens for a reason, like how do you plan not to be happy? How can one choose sadness over happiness? How can one choose loneliness over companionship? Sometimes, when there are irreconcilable differences this happens and I am sad to accept that it has happened to me.

 

Image result for broken heart
Image from pexels.com

 

 

 In my work, every day I tell my clients to hold on, be strong; to fight for their relationships and rebuild those broken bridges. But when the same dynamics take place in my own life, I cannot take my own advice. 

I cannot sit Getty(myself) down and reflect on feelings of despair or sadness, feelings of loss or wasted time. Granted, I can give myself a pep-talk in front of the mirror everyday and really one has to. But I cannot heal my own pain. As a social worker, the theories and principles governing my everyday work involve helping others to help themselves. But, when I am emotionally scarred, I cannot use the same concepts for myself. This leaves me at a loss because I spend so much time dealing with other people’s emotions but when it comes to my own, I feel numb.

Writing is my escape, my silent counselor. I get to explore my emotions as I write and it does provide some relief. At work the same smile I wore before I went on my vacation is the same one they saw today, always the professional. Yes, I have mastered the meaning of being there for others even as your own heart is breaking. The client needs not know that you also have problems today. They are personal. I’m sure it is true for all professionals across the board, even outside social work. We all have problems but the clients’ problem come first.

I may be down but I’m not out. I still do what I do with my all, for the love of social work. My personal life needs a bit of work right now which I’m willing to put in. In all this, God never does things by coincidence, there is a reason and a season for all things. So all is well.

Till next time…

GG