One might be wondering why in the world is this Singaporean social worker in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, a specific answer to the question would probably not be found in this post (perhaps a later one). For the time being, will just be sharing certain key experiences worth documenting.
Let's face it, the main reason why we wanted to be social workers was for the very fact that we want to be able to help others. The part about empowering persons and facilitating change only came later once we started our social work education. We had experiences where we found that friends and people could depend on us for help, and we decided that social work was probably the best job which suited this ability and skill we have.
Difficulties, however, arise when we realised that what we defined as helping others, is actually different from how social work officially defines help. There is that bit about "client self-determination" that we have to consider. To what extent is the help in line with what our client needs, and are we providing help that would make our clients dependent on us for future survival. In the context of caring for a family member or friend, we can provide unconditional support over many years, but this might not useful within a professional social work context, where our interventions have to strike a balance between helping enough to engage our clients, and not helping too much that our clients become overly dependent on us to resolve their problems.
Mimi Kim's website Creative Interventions provides an interesting and alternative way of tackling interpersonal violence in the community. Instead of focusing on individualised services and state intervention, the focus is on mobilising the community to take up responsibility in addressing violence.
Education and resources are shifted back to families and communities to address violence at various stages of abuse. A user-friendly tool kit is also made available for free! This for me, is refreshing in a world where some pockets of practitioners tend to keep important knowledges away from others in the interest of maintaining copyright.
Social Service delivery in Singapore is currently undergoing what one might call a realignment of spirit (as opposed to a cosmetic facelift). There is a concerted state led effort towards reorganising and recalibrating social services to ensure quality service, whilst at the same time establish key benchmarks for family service centre social workers to aspire to. This shift represents the emphasis for social workers to focus on social work. Social work as it should be practiced, and social work as aligned to the proficiencies expected of one armed with a 3-4 year degree from a reputable university.
This version of social work defines 3 main activities that undergird practice: Case management, Group work and Community work. The first two activities are clearer in the sense that they focus on supporting behavioural and situational change for vulnerable populations such as ex-offenders, youths, women affected by abuse, etc. These are two activities that have been practiced regularly in Singapore.
It is the last activity (which is the focus of this article) that may cause confusion: What exactly is Community Work? Could it be an extension of group work, where instead of working with a closed (or open) group of 12 persons with addiction issues, we work instead with an open group of 50 - 100? Most likely not. Does it involve working with the grassroots leaders and residents' committees? Would it involve social action?
I happened to have had the opportunity to facilitate a group discussion during a recent Singapore Conversation under the Singapore Association of Social Workers, where my group moved to talk about whether we as a Singaporean society were caring enough for disadvantaged groups in the community.
Was a bit disappointed with the outcome of the conversation, as no clear outcomes or directions were delineated. It developed into the usual discussion of whether one should depend on the government to set directions, or whether the community (of Singaporeans, social workers, etc) can be empowered to better support disadvantaged persons in the community. But of course, realistically speaking, one might not have much expectations when partaking in a time limited endeavour where topics such as "Whether the disadvantaged were being cared enough Singapore" could only spark general conversations.
I sometimes get bored whenever I get caught up in conversations about setting clear guidelines and goals, in an intervention project, or even about the roles of social workers in general. Clear structure is needed in order to be effective in the work you do, or so I've heard.
But then the lack of boundaries is probably what makes social work unique from other professionals. We work within specific principles with clear values, but the boundaries that define how we actually help our clients can remain fluid. In that way, we can bring our clients to the hospital (if its in line with our intervention plan and assessment of the case, and our presence would help the process), conduct some level of psychotherapy with them and their families, and also advocate for their needs at the community or policy level. That fluidity allows help to be rendered at all levels.
Maybe we should focus less on asking "is this what I should be doing?" and instead have the voice in our head saying "How can I contribute to the helping process?" My thinking is: If there is a need, we should go straight into addressing it, instead of hesitating whether or not that need is part of our job scope.
But then, another thing I learnt is that we need to pick our battles to fight.
The elections are over, results are out, and unsurprisingly, the ruling party has garnered the majority of votes, with the exception of one Aljunied GRC. In spite of the maintenance of a one party rule, results do show a progression towards the multiple representation democracy desired by various segments of society. Conspiracy theories, and calls for a certain MP to be removed from parliament aside, the results of this year's election also assumes the presence of a dichotomy between two groups of persons infused with different beliefs of governance.
The first: being the older group of voters who are loyal to the current patriarchal system of rule, and willing to submit their futures to the ruling political team that has, through a proven history, led the country time and time again through periods of crisis.
The second group, represents the so called disenchanted youth, disillusioned by rising taxes, widening inequalities, difficulties in affording housing, and express their grievances articulately, (and in some cases, not so articulately). They yearn to be engaged in a more collaborative democratic-styled governance that has been omnipresent in modernised societies in the world.
This would probably be a rare post for me on the upcoming elections.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there are already many informative sites from the viewpoints of the different parties, and thoughts and commentaries on the strengths and deficiencies of the different parties (and of course all the politicizing that has taken place). And personally I feel that others are probably doing a much better job then I probably would (with my inexperience in writing about political issues) with their clear and succinct arguments.
This is also a time for me to be less apathetic about Singaporean Politics.
What does social work have to do with politics? (you may or may not be asking me)
As I parked my Malaysian made Perodua Kenari next to my friend’s continental Audi during a recent get together, I could not help but feel embarrassed by the disparity of income status between us, made so evident by this obvious metaphorical comparison. Such gatherings form a source of displeasure on my part, making me reflect on my life choices, as well as lamenting on luxuries that I would probably not be able to afford with my current lot in life.