“To do this work you need an equal balance of mind and soul. You need to learn the relevant skills, but you need to hear the stories with empathy and respect – this is how to serve humanity”.
I began my placement at the Jesuit Refugee Service in April 2016 by hiding behind a computer screen and trying to learn everything I needed to know about asylum seekers living in the Australian community.
Gratefully, I was also able to shadow the JRS staff to learn more about casework skills in this context. The team welcomed me and their passion, empathy and determination became contagious.
I was stuck because I was so concerned with first having all the knowledge and this outweighed getting to know the clients.
I moved passed this and the words of a client will stay with me forever: “To do this work you need an equal balance of mind and soul. You need to learn the relevant skills, but you need to hear the stories with empathy and respect – this is how to serve humanity”.
It didn’t take me too long to realise how much I would learn from the clients. That is the great thing about JRS; the clients remain the experts about their own lives. Because they come from all regions of the world, with different cultures, I have been able to learn about various cultures, traditions and skills.
I particularly noticed this in the arts and craft group which has recently started at the Arrupe community centre. Clients who want to teach different craft activities run the group. I feel honoured to participate in this group because I am constantly introduced to skills that clients have inherited in their country of origin, and which they want to share with me.
My greatest lesson from the clients is the importance of accompaniment, service, and advocacy; this is where true hope lies.
By Janelle Massih
4th Year Social Work Placement Student from the University of Sydney