Tag: social work

Cape Town memories

The good…

I remember how this coastal city in South Africa is the place where I had my first real job after finishing college. I started the work that has become my life’s passion in Cape Town. I studied social work in college, but it is only when I actually started doing the work that I found my true calling.  My first job was at Cape Town Child Welfare and that job taught me everything I know now about social work.

This blog also started in Cape Town. I remember writing my very first post in September 2012, you can read Hello world! I was so excited to share my social work journey with the world and this blog was born. It was called Mind of a Social Worker at first and I did a lot of ranting about social work as a profession back then, LOL. Six years later, I am still here.  Although a lot has changed (I have changed location, started a Ph.D. and grew older), the core of my message has remained the same. I am still writing and I am still passionate about the different aspects of my life, most of which are centred around my work. It all started in Cape Town.

Cape Town is home to the famous Table Mountain, Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years) and lots of other beautiful tourist attractions. I remember always being grateful that most of these sights that people traveled far to see were just a train ride away from my home. I definitely made sure to spend time exploring Cape Town and I miss that a lot.


Image result for cape town
Image from cnn.com


With fond memories, I remember Cape Town as the place I lived with one of my older sisters, almost twin sister because we are just a year and a half apart. It was our first time living away from home together, just the two of us. She is the love of my life, so you can only imagine how much fun it was living with her. We made so many memories in our first apartment, then the second. I know now that even if I go back to visit, it will never be the same as when we actually did life together. Leaving her to pursue my own dreams is still one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But its part of growing up. At least I always have an excuse to visit Cape Town, my heart is still there.

sister love #tbt


The bad…

The bitter memories of my time in Cape Town are not things I like to dwell on because I like to focus on positivity.  I was not in Cape Town when the most violent and deadly xenophobic attacks took place in 2008 and left 62 people dead and more than 100 000 displaced Source, but I was there in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, approximately 2500 immigrants (mostly Zimbabwean) were displaced due to xenophobia. Living in a state of fear for one’s life is not something I will ever want to go through again. Xenophobia is still alive in South Africa as a whole and because it is Zimbabwe’s neighbouring country, most of my people migrated to South Africa. My family members and friends still live in South Africa, so this affects me on a personal level.

There is also the issue of institutionalised racism. In Cape Town, white privilege is a real thing and having been a black employee in that city, all I can say is that racial inequality is something I also experienced. I never got the chance to confirm it, but salaries and positions seemed to follow a racial hierarchy. I was just happy to have a job as I am sure most people of black descent often feel when they are employed. You consider the bills you have to pay and the mouths you have to feed. At times, you feel rather demotivated to fight an injustice that has been going on for so long that it feels normal when it really shouldn’t be. There are places in Cape Town where black people are still not allowed. I remember, one time, when a group of my friends and I went to a white majority suburb and decided we needed to eat. We entered a restaurant and the place went really quiet as we found our own place to sit, with no assistance from any of the people who worked there. People started moving from their seats leaving us isolated in the corner that we had chosen. In the end, we were politely asked to leave. It saddens me to remember it now.

It is sad that such a beautiful place is also home to a lot of pain, violence, and injustice. As you can see, my memories of Cape Town are bittersweet.

Day 16 Blogtember Challenge



The Social Work Dilemma

I haven’t practized social work in almost a year now. I realized only in the practical sense have I not practized but in principle I never stopped being a social worker.

Reminiscing on my days in the social work office
Reminiscing on my days in the social work office

It is when you are having normal day-to-day conversations with friends and significant others that you realize there are certain things that have become instilled in you due to the work you do. You do these things even when you are not in a work setting. It’s like when people say lawyers like to argue…they do this even when they are not in court. It becomes their lifestyle to argue every point even when discussing general issues. In the same way, I realized the social worker in me did not switch off when I left the profession about a year ago. I still think and talk like a social worker. And I have found, to my dismay that this is not always a good thing.

Scenario 1: I am having a normal conversation with my mother and I find myself not agreeing with what she is saying. Instead of supporting my point of view properly like her daughter, I start psycho-analyzing her. I start wondering why she might be taking that stance instead of the other. Quickly in my head I am calculating how I can question her to get the right answers as if I am in a counselling session. Ask questions that will make her show me the deeper thoughts behind whatever statement she makes. This is no longer a normal mother-daughter conversation. It is now a client-social worker dialogue. The formal tone and line of questioning is enough to make anyone defensive.

Scenario 2:  I am discussing a problem a friend might be having, I switch into social work mode. I start thinking every quandary has a solution and it is the role of the client (my friend) to think of all available options before selecting the desired solution…with my help of course. In a way, I think my friends appreciate the advice at the end of the day but am I really being a friend or I am treating them as clients? I doubt they care or see the difference as long as they leave with a solution. This is when I realized not so long ago that I actually give good relationship advice (just wish I could take the same advice myself).  But where do you draw the line because at times our friends just want to vent and do not necessarily want to be grilled until they solve the issue.

So yes I cannot erase or silence the social worker in me. I want to be a good friend and daughter but I need to learn to balance the professional voice with my own. The two have become so mixed that I can’t tell which one is me and which one is the professional.  I don’t think I want to change totally, because in principle social workers are really cool people (I have to say that!!!). I like being helpful to my friends and family but do they enjoy being treated as clients? On the other hand, I also feel that the people I care about deserve to talk to me as I am, not wearing the professional mask on.

I really should learn to just be myself…but social work is my life so I don’t know how I can separate the two.

What are your thoughts?

How culture affects social work!!!

I have been AWOL the past couple of weeks, or has it been months??? I apologise to my loyal readers but I always try for this blog to remain relevant. That means I can only write when the material I have pertains to social work and my experiences with it. That sometimes can be a difficult task as I have to be in the right mind space to be creative. Having said that though, I am happy to be back!!!

Today I want to write about how social work fits into different cultural contexts. In other words how do we do work with clients from different cultural backgrounds? I attended the social work forum this month where the topic “A constructivist approach to the help-seeking process of clients:A response to cultural diversity”( Mo-Yee Lee a Master of SW, CSW and Phd holder) was presented. It was a very good research done on various clients of different cultural backgrounds in the Asian community and comparing with the Western culture. It led to me to thinking and making comparisons in my own work context with the clients I meet. This is what I call putting learning into practice….*proudofmyself*.

My serious look. Check my instagram for more pics @jusgee_gee

So I used to think a child in need is just a child in need nomatter where they come from as in which country or what language they speak or their religious affiliation. In the course of the past two years I had an increase in the cases of Zimbabwean children who were found in need of care in Cape Town. I often wondered how this was happening but anyway as I started comparing with the South African, Congolese and Angolan children I had on my caseload; I realised there were differences in the way the helping process takes place. I realised that culture plays a big role in determining what kind of intervention is most appropriate for each child. Each case is therefore looked at individually and holistically which is one of the main components of social work itself

How the child from Zimbabwe perceives her problem will be different to how the Congolese child would view hers. Furthermore how they both perceive to solve the problem will depend on what they were brought up to believe and makes part of their culture. So what makes sense in one culture will not necessarily make sense in the other culture.Let me go deeper with an example…

A 12 year old Zimbabwean child is found on the street after running away from home. After an interview she explains that she made her aunt whom she was residing with in South Africa angry and she got a hiding. The child perceives her problem to be the fact that she made her aunt angry and not the fact that aunt physically abused her or used corporal punishment as a way to deal with a problem teen. This is because child strongly believes that there is nothing wrong with adults hitting you if you did something wrong, this is part of Zimbabwean culture. ”A good hiding with a belt straightens a naughty child.” So in this case trying to get said child to open a case of assault will not be the desired solution and it will cause tension with the client. She will not want to tarnish the family name and it really is not abuse according to her…  

*not real case, just illustration*

So you see the predicament the social worker faces. The law in South Africa is clear on corporal punishment. The South African child would readily open a physical abuse case and accept placement in safe care until matters are resolved with family. It is therefore clear that problem identification and solutions depend on the cultural context. In order to provide a good intervention it becomes important for the
social worker to listen carefully to the client’s description of the problem and hearing the value systems not imposing their own. This encourages an open mind and a willingness to learn about cultural diversity.

Congolese families are very close knit and they normally solve their problems amongst themselves in their community groups. It is not uncommon to find a Congolese taking in a destitute child just because they are from the same country. Their sense of community stretches to the children calling each and every adult aunt or uncle and one would think they are all related. Maybe they all are in a way and their solidarity is admirable. Nigerian communities we all know that their problems seldom reach social workers or any official authorities if they can help it. They are a very self-sufficient cultural group. Some people believe in spiritual solutions to social problems. Again it is not uncommon to hear a parent offering prayer or a prophet as a solution to a social problem. It is all up to what the client believes to work for them and that is what they will gravitate towards.

In conclusion there is no one size fits all social intervention. There are variants of factors that can make it work for one group and not the other. It is good practice to negotiate which is the best for each individual client.

Below are pictures of me speaking on cultural day at Ons Plek Projects for Girls. I was wearing a form of Zimbabwean cultural dress, my face painted in the form of Xhosa cultural make-up.

Its that time of the year again…

It is that time of the year again…festive season and holiday time. At the children’s home it’s again that bittersweet time when the children are preparing for the holidays. For me and the staff at the home it is a mentally and physically draining time. Last week we said goodbye to one of the children who has been in the home for ten years, practically grew up there and it was a mixture of joy(for her starting a new chapter) and sadness(because she had made her home at this place). Some of the children cried like there was a funeral watching her leave with all her belongings she collected over her stay at the home. For the others it was a question of “when will it be my time”. Needless to say I had a busy afternoon trying to console the ones who remain and getting them to see that this exit was a good thing.

Kids art

Now back to the Christmas planning, it is hard to make plans for those who have nowhere to go and just the thought of them being left all alone when others are gone is heartbreaking. Well I have been trying to find host parents, at least someone who can have some children over for the day or weekend over Christmas. Not an easy task… We also have as plan B a Christmas day celebration so that there is Christmas at home and a good feast for those who will still be in the house by then. And there will be presents for everyone.

It is hectic and I am always sad around this time. What makes me upset though is those guardians who have made no effort to change their circumstances over the years so their children can come back home. Orphans and foreign children I can understand their predicament but children who come from dysfunctional families will always feel the unfairness of not having anywhere to go yet your parents are still alive and probably having a jolly good time for the holidays. Well safety of the children is first and we will not expose them to a risky holiday. Not to speak of all the emergency placement requests I will be getting because of children left all alone or exposed to drugs and alcohol this festive season.

One moment of exceeding joy mixed with tears was when we read out Christmas messages to the girls yesterday. One of the girls who is 12 made a speech about what she is grateful for. I can tell you that what touched me the most coming from this girl who is thought to be mentally challenged was the acknowledgement that the children’s home is her home now. She thanked the social worker (me*biggrin*) and in tears said that when she came she did not speak a word of English but now look at her giving a speech of thanks in English. My heart went out to her and I realised nomatter what we do these children do see and they do appreciate. I realised also that on some level, whether she lacks some cognitive abilities she knows what love is and she has opened up to receive it. These are the moments I live for.

Well I look forward to a busy December with my kids as I call my clients. I am learning motherhood this way and I love it.

Back to social work…

I must say when I started blogging I did not anticipate taking such a long break from my writing. This post is dedicated to explaining this lapse in MindOfASocialWorker and I am grateful for those who have missed my posts because this has spurred me back into action.

First of all let me say that it has been hard to channel the social work mind in the past couple of months. Yes I was going to work everyday and still doing social work but my blog material comes from that part of my work that pokes my creative side, that part of my work that inspires me and that has been missing. I found myself at a crossroad, having to make decisions about my career. To be honest I have been unhappy about the state of the social work profession in South Africa. The lack of recognition, the hard hitting poverty and socially demoralizing issues that you face everyday as a social worker…I will not even go into the low salary. I have felt de-motivated as yet another bunch of teenagers resorted to life back on the streets after what I presumed to be worthy interventions on my part to try and
change their lives for the better.

I have realized that I can only do so much…I can only help someone who needs to be helped and who is ready to receive the help. I went back to the basic definition of social work that I got in my first year of college which states that “social work is a profession that helps human beings to help themselves”.  At the end of it all if an individual will not help themselves you cannot help them.

At this crossroad I found myself asking questions around my future in social work. In my unhappiness I realized that I did not want to do generic social work anymore. Specializing is the way to go if I am going to have a meaningful career in social work. So I toyed with the idea of doing my Masters Degree and have spent months trying to decide what to specialize in.This new found goal has given me a new lease of life and there will be lots of studying if I qualify but I think I am ready. 

I have learnt in this period that when one door closes another one opens. I have reminded myself to never stop dreaming. There is a wise saying I came across that says “you will never see the rainbow if you never look up”.  Up meaning we constantly need to aim higher
and find ways to redefine ourselves.

So I am back and you can look forward to more MindOfASocialWorker
posts. Back on my grind*big grin*

When a mother cannot protect her own…

Ties that bind

I had a case yesterday that inspired this article. This case left me wondering what is left in the world
for children when their own mothers fail them. When your own mother who is meant to be your nurturer and protector betrays your trust….

I have questions in my mind after the interview that I had with a mother and her child. The child aged 14 was sexually abused by the mother’s partner three years ago. The case was open against child’s stepfather and was withdrawn, man never went to prison, and justice was not seen for this child whose innocence was stolen at 11 years of age. Why? The answer is really why I am baffled and trying to find answers.

The child’s mother is the reason why the man is not in jail. She has influenced the child to say it did not happen the way it did, influenced the child to lie and say he did not do it. All this to protect a man who is guilty but cannot be exposed because he is the financial pillar of the family.  The mother makes excuses like “he does not want to leave, I cannot force him”. As a mother how do you put your man/lover first above your child? As a mother if you cannot protect your own child from such evils who then can this child trust??  When your own mother manipulates you to say what is not true….When your own mother does not think of your care and protection and would rather turn a blind eye…act like nothing happened…

A child at that age is torn between doing what is right and pleasing her family. No one is considering the emotional turmoil that not only came from the assault on her innocence but also from the family pressure. This teenager then starts to act out and be rebellious and still the mother fails to realize the cause of this.  This teenager would rather find her sense of belonging with peers who in most cases are negative than be forced to face the harsh reality. Then drugs come into play to numb the pain…

It is a sad reality to find that maybe the mother has been a victim of child sexual abuse herself. It becomes a sickening cycle because her own mother did not protect her so she does not know how to protect her own. The anger that is kept inside builds up for years and this current child will grow up with the same bitterness her mother did. How will she be there for her own children? Not because she does not want but because she does not know how to…

So who is to blame? Society? Men who take advantage of children? Mothers who fail to protect their children? As a social worker all that is left to do is to ensure that child protection services are rendered. But how do you change ingrained beliefs and upbringing passed from generation to generation?

I am still wondering…

Walking the Labyrinth…Prayer for Social Work



Definition: It is an elaborate structure synonymous with maze in colloquial English. A labyrinth has a single, non-branching path which leads to the center. It has an easy route to the center and back. Many labyrinths set in floors or on the ground are large enough that the path can be walked by individuals or groups for private meditation. (Source: Wikipedia)

So basically today was a day of meditation and silent prayer for the children that we work with. The organization suggested a prayer day to start off the year and put all worries forward to God for the year. The Siyahamba Labyrinth at St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town was suggested as the place and method of prayer. We had to pray for better working relationships amongst staff and better working relationships with stakeholders who bring the children into residential care particularly the external social workers.  In general it was a few hours of having a spiritual connection as you walk down the labyrinth “maze”.  It really is a good thing to work with people who can put everything aside and focus on praying for the work that we do. It is not an easy job to work with children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected. Their souls have been tampered with and in order to be able to assist these children, us as workers need to be fed spiritually as well.


My experience was surreal in the sense that I could meditate and silently speak to God about my troubles. It was the first time to have this kind of meditation experience of walking around a circle and following certain lines, one foot after the other. With the group of colleagues I was with it was almost tantric, like we were all lost in our own worlds, going around and crossing one another in our paths.  I remember thinking how I would love to do that again on a personal level with people I love and see how we would experience that.

So if you hear of a labyrinth near you, do try this experience. It is peaceful and helps you to get centered on your thoughts and as you come out of the maze you feel relaxed. Silence is a must so as not to disturb the flow of energy from the ground to the body and all the messages coming from the walk. I would definitely do it again. The most important gift I took away was the knowledge that 12 adults walked in complete silence and prayed for children in need of care, knowing that God heard us we look forward to a blessed 2013.

Stay blessed…..and take a moment of silence. A lot can be heard from it.