“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
When I share that I am studying social work, people often ask, “So you want to help people?” It’s true, I do want to help individuals who are suffering from the weight of injustice, poverty, discrimination, and oppression. Helping is a familiar concept for people, and don’t get me wrong, we need service and charity and people to help. But it’s also a concept that creates a power dynamic between the helper and the receiver.
So what would happen if we went beyond helping and really entered into the realities of others’ lives and sat with their distress, confusion, and anxiety? It can be a pretty uncomfortable thing to do. It requires fully opening yourself up to suffering, stepping out of your own life and into another. It requires complete presence, mutuality, and courage, and creates the possibility for relationship, companionship, and trust.
That is what we are striving for at Taller de José. We not only offer ideas and suggestions for clients to explore, but we build trusting relationships and offer them companionship in their journey. Sometimes, this is really what clients need, someone who is truly present to them in a society that has ignored them.
Jocelyn* came to us at a very difficult time in her life. Se had suffered from domestic violence in her marriage a few years ago and has since separated from her husband. Jocelyn has worked every job she can find in the past few years, yet she continually struggles to pay her basic monthly expenses and support her two children. She has considered returning to Mexico, yet she doesn’t want to leave her children who are U.S. citizens. Jocelyn has lived in the same apartment for the last five years, but has struggled to pay the rent for the past two months. Jocelyn says that this has happened before, and she has always found a way to pay eventually. But this time, her landlord’s patience has run out, and Jocelyn will be evicted in a month.
When I first met Jocelyn, our appointment lasted for two hours. Jocelyn came to Taller de José looking for stable work and affordable housing. Yet Jocelyn needed so much more than this – she needed someone to listen and be present to her suffering. By listening to Jocelyn’s story, I was able to see Jocelyn as more than just a collection of socioeconomic issues that needed to be managed. I was able to see Jocelyn for her optimism, strength, and resilience in the face of so many barriers. She told me in that first conversation, “there have been so many doors that have been closed on me, but I will continue to knock until a door opens.”
As a social work intern and case manager, it is my role to help Jocelyn connect to services that will aid her in finding stable work and housing. Helping others will always be a part of my job, but, fortunately, I work at an organization like Taller de José that allows me to be so much more than that. As a compañera, it is my role to walk with Jocelyn as she navigates this difficult time in her life and accompany her with my whole heart. Taller de José embodies many of the reasons I want to be a social worker; here at Taller de José we create mutuality because we recognize that we are all connected, and that our liberation—from inequality, injustice, poverty—will be a mutual one.
*Names are changed to protect client confidentiality
The above story was featured in our Spring 2016 Newsletter. Click here to see the rest of the newsletter (Vol 7, Issue 2).