I have to admit — this is tough. The days pass by and I forget to take a moment to connect with myself and my emotions. Everything around me, including myself is constantly moving and changing its form and meaning. On the surface, I feel grateful for this opportunity, but this is often difficult for me to see. I find myself trapped in a negative frame of mind when I dig too deep into the systemic injustices, bureaucratic bullshit, and organizational inadequacies. At times it seems that the systems that are meant to assist marginalized populations just cut them down and keep them there.
For me, it has been essential to find balance when working cross-culturally particularly within an international context. I will say without hesitation that some days are swell and some days are disheartening.
On another note… recently I have been working through ways that I can engage in effective and mindful advocacy. Advocacy should be an assertive and collaborative approach to problem-solving, not an aggressive and adversarial one. Understandably, there are so many barriers that stand in the way of effective advocacy; and the only way that these barriers can be overcome is through a climate of mutual respect. The main elements that must be taken up to establishing mutual respect are rooted within rights, information, voice, and inclusion. Advocacy is not an easy task; it is discouraging, frustrating and intimidating, but above all, it is extremely worth it.
Storytime: At MSRI we have a young client from Pakistan, who came to Malaysia four years ago to seek asylum with her family. Around three years ago she was diagnosed with hereditary sensory-motor neuropathy (HSMN) which is a rare foot deformity that prevents her from walking properly and attending school. Her family faces many systemic barriers in Malaysia and they struggle to be heard and supported. The medical costs are exorbitant for foreigners and discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers is ingrained within society, especially when seeking medical and social services. Over the past few months our team has been advocating for her and her family to get the medical support and care that she needs; through commitment and collaboration, we were able to achieve this for her. When I saw the smile on her face as the specialist was creating the molds for her prothestics I realized that it really is worth it…
Back to finding my balance… endless coconuts, delicious fruit, tofu curries, and exploration have been the answer to finding myself, staying sane and ridding myself of my pessimistic negative ways.
Within my placement at MSRI, I have had the chance to work collaboratively on an interdisciplinary team of very diverse and unique people from all over the world. My colleagues at the organization have made these experiences so enriching through sharing their personal stories, worldviews, and future aspirations.
We recently had the opportunity to go to the UNHCR headquarters; this visit was something that I had been pushing for since I joined the social work team at MSRI, as I feel that I blindly refer clients and speak as if I fully grasp the realities and uncertainties that they are facing. Our visit was very impactful and provided me with alternative views on excessive processing times, resettlement initiatives, vulnerability as a measurement and the implications of Malaysia as a non-signatory state on the quality of life for refugees and asylum seekers within the region.
This experience has facilitated my learning in so many ways and has shown me the diversity among the population that we serve at MSRI. In practice, I think it is critical to work with cultural humility rather than cultural competence. We will never be competent in somebody else’s culture; so, check yourself, your social positioning and be conscious of any biases, values, beliefs, and assumptions that you may hold to ensure we are not perpetuating neo-colonialism and Global North privilege. Ways that we can work through this is by educating ourselves, being respectful of people’s differences and cultivating our own curiosity. Laugh at yourself, shut up and listen and ask questions!