Once, she served a case where violence was prevalent at home, and where the child bore the brunt of the violence. Despite the family having already gotten official protections under relevant laws in Singapore, the mother had continued to keep her husband around by choice, and out of fear that things would escalate if otherwise.
As a social worker on the case, she knew that the violence will continue to harm the mother and child under such an arrangement but there was only so much she could do as a third party. She almost had to close the case knowing that the abuse will continue.
This is just one of many cases that has haunted social worker, Gina, emotionally, because it is in her nature (and job) to help and she wasn’t able to help them.
“I’d go home and think about it a lot, and it’ll bring me to tears.”
Sadly, this is part of the reality, she tells me. Ultimately, social workers like Gina can only do their best to process situations together with their clients and advise them in the hope that they will find it within themselves to make changes. She is in no position to force or impose anything on her clients, because it is their life to live after all.
“I had to really learn how to let go.”
Social Work Pushes A Person’s Emotional Capacity
Emotional exhaustion is an almost everyday challenge for social workers. For new social workers in the field especially, it is very easy to be overwhelmed, Gina explained.
“We don’t really know how to draw the line between work and personal life. But with time and experience you will have to learn self-care.”
Many times, Gina had returned home from a day at work, only to cry to herself thinking about her clients’ situation and how heartbroken she is for them. It is worse when she thought that she had done her best and in whatever she could, only to see no progress.
“You feel very helpless. It’ll definitely affect you because these are lives we’re talking about. These are families that are presented in front of you.”
Having to deal with such emotions is twice as hard for Gina, because the self-professed empath takes on whatever the clients feel. In fact, she had to rule out her initial dream of being a nurse for she would find herself unable to function when she sees people in physical pain.
“Literally, when I see people being in pain, I take on that pain myself.”
A Calling In The Helping Profession
Social work came into the picture in Gina’s secondary school years. After gaining insights into what it encompasses from a friend from church who was a social worker, she realised that she, too, could do it. It was a perfect match for what she had been longing for, and it fit her personality well.
Several informal volunteer stints later, her mind (and heart) was set. The desire to do social work stuck with her all the way till when she was applying for university after JC.
“I realised that I really enjoyed the process of being in someone’s life for a moment, or to hear a story of someone and to assist them, or just to support them in some way.”
However, doubts naturally started to arise when she started getting comments that discouraged her from taking on what is seemingly a vocation with ‘no future’. And one of the biggest obstacles for her was getting approval from her parents to study social work in university.
“Initially, my dad was not very for it. I think he felt that, and a lot of people have this misconception that social work is like volunteering, and you don’t get paid for this. So he thinks there’s no career progression [as well].”
There were also demoralising remarks from friends:
“Do you even need to study social work? Can’t everyone do it?”
Thankfully, Gina managed to secure a scholarship, which paved the way for acceptance from her parents, as it symbolised to them the recognition of social work in the industry today.
In her course of study, she explained that students were taught about human development, and in short, the sciences behind human behaviour and how that knowledge helps them in knowing how to work with different groups of people. As part of the course, Gina has also had to complete 800 hours of internship.
However, even with all the counseling and coursework training, being out in the real world is another ball game altogether.
In an overseas social work opportunity, she has had to work with sex workers, of which many of them were tricked into working at the brothel. Not exactly trained in trauma work, she shared that while she managed to impart certain developmental skills to the ladies there, it was more an experience that humbled her greatly.
“It made me realise how fortunate I am. It made me realise how the world is so much bigger than myself.”
Many of us think it’s the end of the world when we face certain setbacks in our life, but comparing it to the ladies, Gina explains that it makes “you realise [that] it’s not such a great deal.”
We could be worrying about messing up a deadline at work, but many of the sex workers there come from poor or broken families who have been lured into the trade, and find themselves trapped.
Being A Social Worker Also Means Having ‘Fight’ Conventions
Besides her stint overseas, Gina have also, at times, had to go against society’s conventions.
Once, she had to convince a school (and herself) that it is the right thing to pull a student out before he completed his secondary school education.
The student was sent to the youth centre that she worked at, as part of a mandated six months programme for a crime he had committed. Gina later realised, and with most of the youth, that this youth was just misunderstood.
It’s common for teenagers to talk about wanting to quit school and although it was the same for the youth, he had also expressed interest in a vocation: making coffee.
“So it wasn’t just because he just want to be lazy and not do anything. He just felt that academics really wasn’t a fit for him.”
After processing his case and getting support from the parents to allow his son to drop out of school in return that he be sent for the barista training course, Gina sought support from the school. However, that was the biggest obstacle, and the principal even emailed her to question her intentions. It was, to any layman, a ridiculous request to allow a student to drop out of secondary school.
“For a while I questioned everything I did. Whether I’m ruining this child’s life. But my supervisor was very encouraging and after looking through my assessments again we decided it was for the best of the child.”
There was very bad blood between the school and the agency she worked at after the case but eventually, the youth went on to graduate from the barista training program, worked at a cafe, and was promoted to manager.
Gina added that when she went back to visit him one day, the youth had told her that “all his life, he felt that he couldn’t do anything right, or that people kept telling him that he wasn’t good enough, and now he finally feels like he’s actually good at something and is recognised for it.”
Besides her official work delegations, Gina has also continued to volunteer with various groups like Runninghour, an inclusive running club that promotes the integration of Persons With Special Needs (PWSN) through running
As somebody who loves sports and the outdoors, Runninghour offered a unique opportunity for her to combine her two passions – fitness and working with people in need. Running guides like herself take time off their busy schedules to run with PWSN who might be mildly-intellectually challenged, physically challenged, hearing challenged or visually challenged.
And for Gina, who has been actively volunteering with Runninghour for six years, it brings her back to why she even went into social work in the first place: To make an impact in some way.
“It doesn’t need to be significant. It can be as simple as assuring someone that they are special, valued, or loved. I guess my ultimate goal is to at least show a bit of love to people through my actions or words.”
As part of Runninghour, Gina will also be assisting in their upcoming Run for Inclusion 2019, Singapore’s only mass running event where participants run alongside hearing, intellectually, physically and visually-challenged runners. If you’re keen to contribute or be part of the community, head over here for more information.
This is not a sponsored post.
Also read: Dealing With Cancer By Running, And Being Called ‘Chao Keng’ For It.
(Header Image Credit: Gina)