By Max Horsmans, Student Social Work at Avans Hogeschool, ‘s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands)
Last week was a challenging week; I joined a NGO called Itemba Lobomi. This is an organisation that provides (social)healthcare in Tembalethu. This is a big community in George, that is also called a township. It was really interesting to follow the social workers for a week. I joined quite a lot meetings. The meetings were about substance abuse (addiction) and parenting skills. Unfortunate these meetings where in Xhosa, and lets say that I don’t speak it fluently… at all. Therefore I couldn’t understand a lot of it. Some things were translated for me, so I could follow the conversations a little bit. The way of working in this organisation was very different, compared to the way of working in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, they try to empower the clients as much as possible. The social network of the client is being involved in the treatment as well. In this neighbourhood (with a lot of bad houses, poverty and abuse an any possible way) they focus on the disorder itself. ‘We have to treat the patient by taking the addiction away by medication’ is a sentence a professional told me. You could say that the healthcare is less evolved than in the Netherlands. This is logical, because there is much more money available in the Netherlands for the healthcare.
I want to pay some attention to the house visits that I did as well. While driving/walking through the community I realised how privileged I am. Being in the houses was shocking for me. I am lucky to say that I haven’t experienced any poverty in my life. Therefore it was strange for me to be in these old and bad houses. Some houses in Tembalethu are quite good; they are small, but have enough facilities to live in. But a lot of houses look really bad; for example they aren’t waterproof. This causes a lot of fungous in the houses, which isn’t healthy of course. It was a great opportunity for me to have some conversations with these people. It was also quite awkward; I had to do it in English, but the native language in this neighbourhood is Afrikaans or Xhosa. But it was also a one in a lifetime experience. The house visits that I attended were all follow-up meetings. Therefore the case was known and I was briefed before we entered the house. I tried to collect some information of the mental and physical well-being of the clients. It was so interesting, because I had to focus on other aspects of life. I had to focus on the basic needs in life a lot more, than I usually do in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands I focus a lot more on the social aspect of life. But since the people in Tembalethu are in an entire different stage of there life, they have other priorities. I did not learn any professional skills in the past week, but it really was an eye opener for me; which is maybe even more important.
Even though it was an exhausting week, I would not have missed it. This was a really great experience for me and it made me realised even more how lucky I am to live in the Netherlands.