Many years ago, a mother with 3 very young children came to our door seeking assistance. An older colleague who used to work elsewhere took me aside and heaved a sigh. She told me that she was the caseworker for this woman’s mother at her previous place of employment and it pains her to see this woman in the same situation as her mother. She also told me that I should be prepared to deal with alcoholism, violence, child neglect and perpetual crises.
What I heard sounded like stereotyping but as a young worker, I took it that this older colleague was simply looking out for me. Sadly, as I got to know this family better, the words of my colleague rang true. Nonetheless, there were many moments that impressed on me with what a privilege it was to have met this family.
We were trusted with the care of their children and enriched by the joy of the experience. We were also heartbroken when 2 of them got into serious trouble with the law when they were older. If we believe that disadvantaged families lack the capability of raising their children well, then shouldn’t we say the same of ourselves because their children spend the large part of their day with us. When children in our care turn out well, we are praised for having a successful programme but when they don’t, it is on the family.
On Wednesday, I enjoyed fried rice with corn, spicy prawns, curry chicken and a salad for lunch. The youngest child from this family spent the morning preparing 10 servings for my colleagues and me. She is now 30 years old and a mother of 2 children aged 10 and 12. She told me that friends have complimented her cooking and she just wanted to bring over something to appreciate a place that has been a constant in her life. She does security work in the night and last Wednesday was her day off.
As we caught up, I was glad to hear that her mom was well and that her siblings are no longer incarcerated. Her security work provides her with enough to get by and she has a satisfying relationship with her children. She smiled when I joked that she was taking after her father who was in “security” as well. Dad was a bouncer appointed by some hawkers and I recalled how he used to get me a table when the hawker centre was really crowded. It was a different time and she added that her siblings got free meals from the hawkers even after her father passed on by simply mentioning his name.
Compassion is recognising the misfortunes or sufferings of others and taking action to help. Understanding, empathy, and kindness are actions that we can offer. The bedrock of social work is compassion, social justice and community, an aspect of which, is an experience of connectedness and contentment from standing in solidarity with others. Hence, for a start whenever we feel that we need to put others in their place, put ourselves in their place.
For peace, community, and compassion,