Prof R R Singh takes a session every year during the orientation programme for 1st semester students at the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi (formerly DSSW). I have never been able to participate or attend his session as I have generally been busy with orientation programme for 3rd semester students. This time, I was eagerly looking forward to listen to him. He took a session “Understanding social work: global and local in contemporary times” on July 29, 2016
It was a great experience. He was full of stories , shared insights and used humour.
Sir shared his plan for the session and stated that he wont speak for 90 minutes. He said he would make a few statements and then give a quiz which will taken forward with help of students. This made it quite clear from the beginning that the session is going to be participatory, interesting and will not be a long lecture…although I would not mind that at all from someone like Prof Singh.
His statement -‘ Business of social work is social work’ is something I believe strongly in. I, in fact, also believe that primary task of social workers is social work. Many people have their own definitions or ideas of what social worker is supposed to do. I believe that if someone has gone through MSW and chosen a path to be a social work professional, they need to continue to work in this field while following values and principles of this profession. If you can’t follow the values and principles of this profession in your work, you should think of just being in some other profession rather than saying that these values and principles are not applicable in our context. Everything can be applied in our context if we work with a good understanding of the context as well as these values and principles. Social justice is one of our core values. Of course it can applied in our every day work. However, when I get to know about someone who gives up social work as a profession somewhere during the course of life…I feel sad. Sometimes quite angry.
Sir said that you can do social work with or without training. Social work involves work with ‘I’ and “E”, i.e. ‘individual’ and ‘environment’. While discussing this, he mentioned Martha Farrel who was an alumnus of DSSW. She was killed in Afghanistan. This mention about her brought up fond memories of her as she was my PhD batch mate. We were the first batch that was started under new regulations at Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia. She was of course the senior most scholar in our batch. Sharing stories and food made our batch’s PhD journey interesting. I attended her prayer meeting along with my batch mates and faculty members. At that time I had started thinking of all those who work in conflict zones- how they work sometimes without safety and in absence of so many resources; how they work on several issues while reaching out to people who live often under threat and uncertainty. This is tough work. When I worked in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kashmir – these places were not active conflict zones. But as I visited these places, I could not miss how conflict had changed these places and people. I don’t know when will I get back to working in conflict zones because now I have to consider my son (who is not even a year old yet) as my priority. He has a right over my time and availability. My work in the area of child rights has given me enough evidence to believe that parents cannot be easily replaced. You can support parents to do their job better, make the environment better and safe for children. Most children would be better off with their parents who are also generally their primary attachment figures. So for me, it’s a choice between what I may want to do and what my son needs. Lets see how things evolve.
Quiz by sir sounded tough. One had to choose between two aspects and both sounded correct. This for me was to push people to reflect and know more about self. What is it that is a priority for us? ..because these priorities influence our choices and behaviour when we work as social work professionals.
Social work is not only about problem solving but also about empowering- Sir said. I feel that both these aspects go together and that’s why work with individuals as well as environment is important. It is a complex process, sometimes involving so many systems and stakeholders. Making the society compassionate and inclusive– sir’s this statement is one of the core goals of my work and profession I think. It is so important to focus on these aspects, especially in the current scenario where people are stigmatized, excluded and sometimes even killed because they are different from the majority. Social work is a important profession in present times. And we social workers have so much to do! I hope the students are up for the challenge! ..because problem solving and empowerment are not simple processes.
When sir gave newspaper clippings to students, divided them into groups and asked them to select any one problem to then identify solutions to that problem, I was wondering what would be the process of selecting ‘one’ problem out of so many? As a professional, it has often been part of my role to build a case and advocate for the group or community that I work with. My case or my issue has not necessarily been a priority for others. For example, when it comes to mental health (one of my work areas), I have heard co-professionals stating how other issues are more important that talking about mental health. Obviously, when they say that ..i know that they are stating on the basis of their assumptions on what mental health is about. They think mental health requires specialists and everyone can’t deal with it. I feel angry when people say such things without even making an effort to know about mental health. As a mental health professional, I have integrated issued of marginalization, homelessness, child rights, gender, disability and post disaster recovery. Mental health is more than working with disorders. It is about working with everything that affects the way people think, feel and act. This calls for a lot of work with the environment. Its not easy and it requires all of us to be sensitive. You dismissing or humiliating someone also affects mental health. living with fear of threat to life also affects mental health. 1 in 4 persons can have a mental health and neurological problem at any point in their life. so many of us within this classroom may have a mental health problem and we may just dismiss that person’s concern because we don’t know much about mental health. For example, one of the paper clippings was about a women with OCD and difficulties faced by a man because of that. A women with OCD has problems and without treatment, it will be difficult to state whether we are working in a gender sensitive manner. Mental illness is one of the reasons cited to seek divorce, to be restricted with chains within homes, to be stopped from going out for a simple things like buying something from the market, and to not ensure property rights to women and also men. Every story has layers and complexities. What is easily visible is not necessarily the whole story.
I think we need to make an effort to understand basics about as many issues as we can. This is not just to prepare for exams. But as a preparation for us to work with people. People are not guinea pigs for our experimentation. We need to build our capacities to work with them. Because social work profession , most of the time, is not just about our intuition or sixth sense! It is much more and needs perspectives and skills.