World Social Work Day: “I am because we are”
Today (16 March 2021) is World Social Work Day, which recognises the hard work and dedication of social workers, as well as celebrating best practices in social work. This year, the theme of World Social Work Day is “Ubuntu”. Here, Toni-Lea John-Baptiste, a student social worker on placement with St Mungo’s, discusses the concept of Ubuntu and how it applies to the work we do with our clients.
I have recently been working as a student social worker with the St. Mungo’s Wellbeing Team in Westminster. While working with the team, I have gained invaluable transferable skills that I will use in my future practice, and I have gained a deeper understanding of the importance of creativity in social work, as well as how social workers can use these skills to think outside of the box when working with service users.
Due to the current climate of COVID-19, I have had to adapt to remote working. This situation enabled me to draw upon my creativity to engage service users and promote digital literacy in a time where we heavily rely on technology. Upon reflection, I have realised how important creativity is as a social worker, to be able to adapt and work in any environment.
The idea of Ubuntu is all about humanism. It is the belief that your sense of self is shaped by the relationships you have with other people ‘I am, only because we are’, and this was a key theme throughout my placement at St Mungo’s. As an example, we used this philosophy as the basis to create a postcard project which involved members of the Westminster community sending ‘messages of hope’ and discussing things that have helped them during this time, to residents within the different projects of the Westminster Wellbeing Pathway.
At the heart of this project was a sense of community and helping one another, through encouragement, regardless of who the person is or if they even knew them. This was ubuntu in its purest form, as the project was all about helping one another as humans and extending love and hope to echo the philosophy that as a human ‘I am’ ONLY ‘because we are’. It was a truly beautiful project that I am grateful to have been a part of.
My placement has encouraged my creativity as a student social worker, which has played a big part in me developing projects to engage clients. I found that when working remotely, using a person-centred approach to develop tailor-made projects for clients was the best way to engage and support them. An example of this would be my work with a client, in which I used a strengths-based approach to create a project based on their artwork. This then led to working on an intensive 1-1 basis, to create a virtual art exhibit with this client, to not only showcase their artwork, but also potentially create a social enterprise opportunity.
Throughout all of this, particularly because of COVID-19, I’ve realised that you can’t limit social work to a building or a particular place. It’s about treating people as humans, with respect and dignity.