- Do the kinds of social work talked about in these readings differ considerably from your social work education? How? Why do you think that is or isn’t?
My social work education through school and through hands-on work experience have been quite different. Besides this class, my social work schooling education has predominantly been Western-focused. However, in the field, I have mostly worked with Pacific Islanders. As we have come to find out over the course of this semester, many non-western cultures have an entirely differently approach to life, social work included. This is why it’s important to not only be culturally relevant but also culturally responsive. When I think of the two Tongan terms, fakafekau’aki (connecting) and fakatokilalo (humility), I can easily connect the work my field experience. I worked with a lot of first and second generation families where homeland ties were still very prominent. Many times, my clients would ask, “Oh, do you know so-and-so?” as a way of building trust we me and making connections in their minds as to who I knew. Luckily, my work as a home visitor was pretty lax and so with people’s permission, I was able to share whom I’ve worked with in the past. In terms of humility, I could see firsthand the effects of paternalism, living in Hawaii had on many of these immigrant families. They saw me as a “teacher” or a “professional”, someone omnipotent and perhaps to be feared. I think that structurally-speaking, many folks have been told for so long that they don’t know anything or that their way of life is no longer relevant so it was just easier to succumb to this train of thought. This is when it is important for us workers to step down, be humble, and know that we have the burden of being responsible in handling these situations. I found that the more I respected their traditional hierarchy (respect your elders), the more I was granted respect in return. In contrast, my supervisor had a very different outlook. Since I started off kind of young and fresh out of undergrad, she told me that if anybody were to question my abilities, I should just rattle off a list of my qualifications. This approach is definitely from a traditional, Western way of knowing and would not be well received by my Pacific Islander clients. Maybe in some Western cases, it would “work” because schooling and knowledge can sometimes be seen as the be-all and end-all of power.
- What do you think of the metaphor of the “tree” for social work education?
I understand the idea of “knowing your roots” and “knowing where you came from” but I think the metaphor is a little kitschy. If the roots, trunk, and branches are supposed to represent the past, present, and future of social work, I don’t think this is the metaphor we should be using. If the roots keep informing the trunk and branches, we can expect more of the same old song. We need new, creative ideas to create more theories in indigenous social work practice. What I did particularly like about the metaphor was the idea of uprooting the system, however.
- How do you think learning about decolonization and other ways of knowing has impacted you personally and professional?
Last year, I helped Hawaii Community Foundation choose their scholarship recipients. We reviewed applicant’s credentials and then ranked them from “most deserving” to least. Originally, I was looking for the folks with the best grades, essays, and SAT scores. After understanding more about the impacts of colonization and other ways of knowing, this year when I volunteer, I will be ranking the “most deserving” using different criteria. I will be looking for stories of hope and inspiration, granting people scholarships on potential rather than substance.