When I think about the idea of the profession of social work and how social workers in the United States are trained I think about giving, I have heard people say we are the “giving profession. I think there are two main problems with a “giving only” profession. First it can create social workers who have separated themselves from the client and community they serve. Sometimes this separation leads social workers to develop a savior complex or become burnt out and forget the humanity of the communities and people they work for. In a lot of social work jobs “professional boundaries” and/or “self-care” practices that remove the social worker from the client. For example, most social worker would consider it unprofessional to accept gifts from clients or telling a client personal information or even spending time getting to know each other as people. When social workers stop interacting with clients in an authentic human-to-human way the client becomes less connected to the social worker. Social worker should not make their interaction about their personal gain or fulfillment but only giving and not receiving is as equally damaging.
The second problem with the western training of social workers is how having a relationship that only moves in one direction impacts the client. I believe all human relationships thrive when it operates in multiple directions in getting and giving. I have seen the giving-sharing relationship practiced daily in Oaxaca. When a person only gets I several things happen. A person may not value themselves as equal to others, and they may learn that relationships only move in one direction. My experience in Oaxaca has illustrated how muti-directional relationship are more healthy, empowering and effective then the traditional boundary driven social work practice int eh United States. In Oaxaca giving and sharing in every relationship; personal and professional is valued and expected. This is one of the reasons I have fallen in love with Oaxaca.
I have so many examples of how Oaxaca has demonstrated the multi-directional relationship. Oaxacan’s are very quick to give and even though I don’t think they “expect” me to repay them, I get the feeling they “expect” me to be a giver to others. For example, my interactions with a generous and loving family of handmade rugs hosted the Sin Fronteras at their house, fed us and brought us into their very valued and loved world of textile. They did not expect us to buy rugs from them. I think they do expect us to bring back what we have learned about the world of textiles to our friends and family. To convey the importance and value of handmade family owned business.
Another example is when Sin Fronteras volunteered to help build ovens for families who did not have the money or resources to have wood stoves with proper ventilation in their homes. Many women become blind and have other health issues due to the smoke remaining in the house. The family I worked for made every volunteer La Comida (a large late lunch) because they were appreciative for our service to them and wanted to contribute to the process in the only way they could. My Spanish teach at Becari bought me a beautiful blouse, so that I would remember her and Oaxaca. On my last day in Oaxaca she took me to Centro De Artes de San Augstin in Etla (which is about an hour away from Oaxaca) and introduced me to her favorite coffee. She paid her own way and used her own time outside of school because she did not want me to go back to California without experiencing the beauty and culture of San Augstin. I cannot think of many teachers in the United States who would do this. I think fear of having poor boundaries with students or fear of a “liability” would prevent such human-to-human connection.
I could write a hundred more examples but that would make a very long blog. Oaxcacan’s value of giving and sharing relationships has given me an enriching and life-changing experience I would not have gotten in the United States. This piece of Oaxaca is something I will bring back with me as I strive to practice human-to-human social work.