The following Significant Learning Incident I have chosen to reflect on was an incident that went very well, and which provoked me to reflect on the nature of Social work and my own role as a social worker. I felt it had something important to contribute to my view of the nature of social work.
On my very first day of Placement I attended a multicultural festival event ‘Pako Festa’ organised and run by my placement organisation ‘Diversitat’- a ‘Not-for-Profit’ organisation which seeks to support individuals, groups and communities of diverse backgrounds. My role was to be stationed as a representative of Diversitat in a tent housing both my organisations Aged support information, and an allied organisation’s (Geelong Rainbow Inc) LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and Intersex people and communities) information. I was tasked with talking to interested festival goers about Diversitat’s Aged Support services. Additionally, I was to help and liaise with Geelong Rainbow Inc to develop relationships which could be beneficial for both organisations and in supporting LGBTQI participants, including those with intersectionality’s with senior age and/or CALD backgrounds. I was able to view one of the stages and experience the festival myself on breaks.
Much of the day was significant, but my focus as a learning incident involves a ‘snap shot’ of an event of the day. This snap shot involves me noticing the crowd watching an Aboriginal cultural dance concluding. I remember smiling and feeling happiness and excitement, hope and joy. The crowd was giving the performers their attention, clapping their performance and generally seeming to be having a great time. The people in the crowd were of all ages and cultures, many dressed in traditional cultural clothing. It was the diversity, mood, harmony and celebration of culture that caught my attention and prompted my professional reflection. Here was an example of many different cultures being represented and celebrated, and all seemed to belong and get along with each other. It was a striking visual and visceral representation of our multi-cultural community.
I felt this was a significant learning experience for me, as much of the professional reflection I engage in has a more ‘problem’ orientation as I am often focused on ‘what’s wrong?’, ‘what went wrong?’, ‘how can I/it be improved?’ or ‘how do I need to challenge my assumptions and bias?’. This however was a reflection on what was ‘right’ and the nature of social work. In this incident I saw outcomes that included community respect and cultural celebration. I saw communities being exposed to and gaining understanding of other cultures and of just how diverse our community was (and me too!). I reflected on how this event might educate the community about the different cultures within our community and perhaps increase understanding and acceptance so that discrimination, prejudice and racism were lessened within the community. There was a sense of pride and hope. Young people were just as involved as older generations. I thought it was great that culture was being passed down to the younger generations. Here was a place that cultural expression could be displayed and celebrated by the entire community, rather than hidden in smaller cultural group spaces or worse- attacked in public spaces. People wanted to be involved in that. I wanted to be involved in that.
I couldn’t help thinking about how this was an example of ‘macro’ social work, whereas my previous experience has been on a more ‘micro’ and ‘meso’ sphere. It broadened my thoughts to move beyond helping individuals and families, to include groups and communities too. I was inspired- Could I work to improve the community? Could I advance social justice on a larger scale?
I continued to reflect on the incident. I noted my feelings and how good it felt to be a part of this. I also examined a slight feeling of inferiority. Not an uncommon feeling for me, but I wondered why I was feeling it now. I identified that I felt I was too ‘plain’. I had worn a simple dress, with no connections to my culture. I reflected on what I thought my culture was. Well…I was Australian, but also with English, Welsh and Irish heritage, and what about my smidge of Swedish? Or my smidge of Jewish? Should I have worn my Celtic necklace? Could I really claim that culture? Of one cultural identity I was sure of- I was part of the LGBTQI community. I suddenly wished I had dressed in rainbow clothing and decoration and was brave enough to wear my hair super short and funky. Wait- was I sure about the hair? Maybe not.
I thought about how Cultural identity was not always simple, and that cultural identity and diversity was often ‘invisible’. A lot of the cultural clothing and dance that I was seeing today was not often on display. The same people I saw today were part of the community, but dressed in average current fashions and engaged in regular activities I would not be able to identify many of their cultures. Today my eyes had been opened to our diversity, tomorrow they would be blind again- at least to my casual glance. I also reflected that this included the LGBTQI community too, although I had given thought to this before- it was one of the reasons I tried to be Out as much as possible; to increase our visibility. For those with more visible differences I reflected on how much more they stood out on a regular day, compared to today where they appeared to blend seamlessly with others. Today, they were ‘normal’ but also special and celebrated, whereas in everyday life they may be regarded as ‘different’ in a way that alienated them and pathologised them. I reflected how in my previous work people of CALD backgrounds were often seen as people needing extra support, who were vulnerable, and may be more challenging to work with, and that this view could sometimes lead to negative associations and assumptions. I challenged myself to remember this day, and to retain a positive view on cultural difference and cultural identity when I work with people of diverse backgrounds. I also resolved to not forget about the bigger picture of community and society, even when I worked on a smaller scale with individuals and smaller groups. I kept a few snap shots of this day, as a visual reminder of how wonderful it was. When I look at them, I smile.