Ian and Wilfred finish their internship today. They have been with us since November last year and listening to them at an exit interview 2 days ago, I was touched by their humble and honest reflections. “Before coming here, I had assumed that people assisted by a charity were unable to help themselves but now I see them as people who are constantly trying to improve their lives and themselves,” reflected Ian. Both Ian and Wilfred also shared that they were surprised how welcomed they felt among young people and their families. People were curious about their background but were always friendly and importantly, they never felt judged. Hence, it got them thinking if they have been judgmental in the first place.
“The experience gave me perspective of what is important when things don’t go as planned,” reflected Wilfred. He recalled how it was very tense among team-mates when they were preparing for a year-end graduation event. Apart from ensuring safe distancing rules, attending to the logistics with limited manpower was challenging. Things came to a head when the printer broke down and certificates could not be ready. After some pause, the team and him concluded that regardless, it would a meaningful event if they could still assure children that their efforts at learning were appreciated. That was the point of the event and not the certificates.
A workplace challenge that is perhaps more pertinent in our setting, is having constant encounters that trigger self-reflection. An innocuous conversation with some children about their leisure time activities moved Ian. “I was confronted by my privilege,” he revealed. Ian elaborated that his family was by no means wealthy, but he never had to think about his meals, clothes, or other basic necessities. Unlike the children who told him that they would like to help out with their family income if they could, Ian said he would be looking forward to enrichment programmes or fun activities during his leisure time.
It is uncomfortable being confronted by our privilege both Ian and Wilfred concluded, and in any case, it is uncomfortable simply being confronted. We could be confronted by our values, our perspectives or just the manner in which we go about speaking with others that is not helpful in a particular context. Such is the nature of being in a workplace where progress is dependent on the quality of our relationships. So, I enquired if the discomfort of being confronted held any value for them and they unanimously agreed that it certainly made them more authentic.
Finally, this being the last day of the Chinese New Year festival, may the joy of the Season continue to be in abundance for you and your loved ones.
“If you understand others you are smart. If you understand yourself, you are illuminated. – Lao Tzu