|JC, Analakshmi, and Rebecca (L to R)|
SST employs a holistic approach through addressing economic, health, education, environment, agriculture and infrastructure development. Social workers are therefore responsible for a host of overlapping service areas. On Monday, Analakshmi took us to a busy intersection where she and other SST staff were vaccinating and selling chicks to SHG members (a micro-enterprise women’s cooperatives) and local farmers. Last week she helped complete anemia testing and awareness training in a nearby village. She also assists SHGs to better negotiate with creditors and collaborates with village panchayats (local governing body). She exemplifies what a social worker should be: advocate, organizer, leader and, most importantly, ally.
What I find the most remarkable about social work in this context is how much a part of the community social workers become. Social workers are members of the community. They live in the area, buy goods from the local economy and develop close friendships with individuals in the community. Analakshmi lives in Padavedu and returns to her home village once a week. There is very little separation of personal and professional, yet it does not seem to bother anyone. In fact, I think it eliminates many of the barriers between ‘outside helping professional’ and the community. This appears to create a deep relationship of trust and mutual commitment.
At first I could not understand why Analakshmi is not “burnt out.” She has been working in the field for 7 years, she works long hours, travels often, and barely has time to eat, let alone cook. She is clearly passionate about her work, but this is not enough to prevent burn out. I think what prevents internalizing the stress that can come with this profession is the feeling of shared commitment and collaboration. Analakshmi has a vested interest in empowering the people of these villages because she knows them personally as well as professionally. The rapport she has with individual villagers, especially animators, enables her to instigate change and elicit information in ways that an outsider could never breach.