On Wednesday the 30th of November, ATD activists Andrew, Gavin, Christina and Jimmy alongside ATD staff headed to Trinity College to present a two hour Poverty Aware Practice module to 15 masters social work students. The purpose of the module is to share lived experiences of the social care system and give students an insight into what good practice in social work looks like.
“Poverty is not inevitable, human beings can end it” – Joseph Wresinski
As this was a smaller class then usual and held in a seminar room rather than a lecture hall, it allowed for a different, more relaxed and conversational flow between students and the ATD team. The exchange began with each person present introducing themselves in a few words. The work of ATD Ireland, in terms of what we do, who we are and what we believe in – was then briefly presented to the students.
Next, Andrew gave his own personal introduction as to his motivations and liberations.
He spoke about the equal value of all humanity, using the metaphor of a crumpled and stepped on 10 euro note. “I believe one person can make a difference even if life has stepped on them that one person still has value. So I hope that ye will take what I have said here today and bring it forward into your social work career and see who ever comes across your path that ye will see that they have value but I also hope that one day when ye look in the mirror ye believe it about yourselves aswell, that ye also have value.” He spoke of the importance and ripple effect of mental and spiritual liberation in terms of how “I hope as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” He also gave mention to the value of the add the 10th campaign in how it could contribute to the development of a fairer, more equal world for all and encouraged the students to support it, which they later were happy to do, by taking a photo with the missing jigsaw piece.
The question of “What does poverty and socio – economic discrimination mean to you?” whether it be in more personal or academic terms was then asked to the students. They were reminded that there is no wrong or right answer, only one’s own meaning and interpretation. Responses such as ‘stigma’ and ‘silent judgment’ were given as was the mention of the struggle between the ‘haves’ and in this case the ‘have not’s’ in society. ATD’s ‘what does poverty mean to you?’ film, which features the voices of those with lived experience of poverty alongside practitioners and academics was then shown to the students to offer an alternate perspective on the question.
After a short break and to change the energy in the room, Jimmy then read one of his recent, inspiring poems on Poverty which was very well received by the group. Gavin then shared a very powerful testimony on his own experiences of discrimination, as well as the generational cycle of poverty and the societal discrepancies in disadvantaged areas such as where he grew up and why this may lead to more institutional intervention such as by social workers. He asked the students some thought proving questions during his presentation which he called ‘chewing gum’ for thought. He asked the question “why did you first want to become a social worker?” and raised the point of how important it is for those in jobs which hold such power to be in that position for the right reasons and not just for the sake of it. He related this to his own passion for personal training and the commitment for positive change in the lives of others he makes in his own job.
Christina then beautifully read her poem ‘Mum and Dad’ from the ‘Lockdown Liberties’ book in which she speaks about her foster parents.“My love for my mum and dad knowing they’re there.They took me into care. 7 years old I was a brat. They always had my back. They’ve always been there. I’ll always love them with all my heart. They gave me a good start. I want to say I care. I’m glad they are always there.” After this the testimonies of Lorraine, Ann Marie and Kye were shown through the ‘Poverty Aware Practice’ film and feedback was given by the students in response.
Chistina then introduced the final exercise of the day which was based on the question: ‘What would an ideal social worker look like to you?” encouraging them to think on the importance of positive practice. Paper and markers were given to the students and as they pondered their answer, Andrew went around the crowd and held a mirror to the face of each student in the room: expressing how each one of their reflections had the potential to be the ideal social worker in their own way. It was a heart warming and truthful message. Answers were then taken from both the students and the activists, many of which were paralleled. Words such as non-judgmental, empathetic, consistent, helpful, passionate about their career as well as having a good sense of humour came up. However the one which was spoken of most, on both sides – was trustful. The importance of trust was one of the major themes that came out of this inspiring exchange of knowledge. Jimmy closed the day off with another wonderful poem on the topic of social work and left the day on a mutual and positive feeling of hope.