It was the beginning of a new year and a new chapter of my life coupled with all the issues that came with the global pandemic. I had several mixed feelings about this new opportunity. I was happy, anxious, scared, and grateful all at once. I was going for my first placement interview at the organisation I was posted to by my university. After the interview I felt elated that it was successful. I was accepted by Queensland Youth Housing Coalition (QYHC) for my placement, and it turned out to be a great hands-on learning experience for me in the field.
I am an international student studying Masters in Social Work at Griffith University. I was posted to a peak organisation involved in youth housing and homelessness. I was engaged in inter-agency meetings and met a lot of amazing people including people in positions of authority like Hon Leeanne Enoch, Corrine McMillan MP, Katarina Ruzh Carroll APM. I was amazed by their down to earth attitude and interest in listening to the needs of the people. I remember during my first visit to the Parliament house, when Hon Corrine came down the elevator to get us by herself, I was almost in doubt she was the person we went to see because I expected some aide to get us as it is done in the part of the world I come from. I kept admiring her finesse and poise.
The focus of most conversations in the QYHC office was on improving the living conditions of young people and addressing the social issues threatening the society through a macro lens. This gave me the opportunity to have a better understanding of the Australian housing sector, social welfare system, policies, and legislations. I observed the passion for service demonstrated at the organisation through their unrelenting effort to support people in need.
My supervisor welcomed my questions and proffered insightful responses. Through our discussions and my personal observations, I made comparisons between my country and Australia from a social worker’s perspective. In my country there is no institutionalised foster care system for children because the culture encourages that the upbringing of children is a communal responsibility. Although there are some not-for-profit organisations and religious groups performing this function, however, most people are either unaware of this or do not support it because of their cultural orientation. In Australia, there are regulated foster carers who are paid by the government to perform this function and an active Child Safety Department which also has its flaws like most other fallible human structures.
One interesting role of the government to social welfare in Australia is the Centrelink which assists individuals and families through payments like income support payments and other benefits. This is a commendable role of the government albeit the citizens are demanding for a higher rate in view with modern day realities of increased cost of living and to enable them to live above the poverty line. The Raise the Rate Campaign which was one of the programs I participated in during my placement was proposing for this change. In contrast, my country does not get these supports from the government although there was a COVID-19 relief payment from the government however, the impact is yet to be accessed.
Housing is one of the biggest issues in many societies because it is a necessity for human survival. Although there are crisis -accommodations provided, it is not a long-term response to the issue of homelessness and people are calling out for a more proactive response through strategies like early interventions. There is the social housing system provided by the government but the waiting list and eligibility criteria to gain these has denied people in need from getting these benefits. There is a call for the Australian government to do more in terms of providing for social housing. QYHC in its effort to bridge the gap of homelessness is running a mapping and modelling project to identify and support the needs of young people across the housing and homelessness system. I was happy to be a part of this project during my time at the organisation. One of the insights I gained was identifying forms of homelessness which includes couch surfing. However, in my country, there are social housing schemes, but it is a struggle for the government to meet up with the housing demand of a population of about 201 million with limited resources and the issue of poor governance.
I observed the similarity between my culture and that of the Indigenous Australians. These similarities include their traditional belief that the creator owns the land and the sea and leaves them as the custodians of the land; their value for family business above other engagements; their concern about the welfare of their close and extended family members, the way they provide accommodation to homeless family members. I also believe we share the same spirit of resilience and strength.
The parenting style in Australia is different from what we have in Africa. Most families in Australia are structured as nuclear family units. The parenting responsibilities are basically exercised by the parents and children do not receive corporal punishment for unruly behaviour. Through my inter and intra agency interactions with agencies involved in family and youth services, I observed there is an upsurge in adolescent to parents’ violence. There is a great impact of culture in Nigeria which is my country of origin. It is a taboo for a child to abuse their parents verbally or physically, direct eye contact with an elderly person is seen as a sign of rudeness and an evidence of a poor upbringing. It is believed that children who behave rudely will face mishap in life. These appeal to the moral consciousness of young people and deter them from these socially unacceptable behaviours. Corporal punishment is used in homes and schools to discipline kids. However, in recent times there has been some changes around this as it is no longer acceptable for schools to use it as a form of discipline. Nevertheless, it is still used in homes as it is believed to be a part of the African culture.
Australia is a multicultural country with great acceptance for culturally and linguistic diverse people which make it feel like home to foreign residents. The encouragement for cultural sensitivity generally and specifically in organisations is remarkable. During my placement, I understood that most problems are universal, but the difference lies in the approach in solving those issues. I noticed that culture has a great impact on these approaches. My first placement was very insightful getting to learn much within a short period and meeting very supporting and amazing people which includes my workmates in the office, my onsite supervisor, my supervisor from my University and my placement Liaison officer. I will surely miss my place in the organisation, and I hope to maintain the contacts I have established during this period. I appreciate the opportunity I was given in this place and I will carry the lessons learnt to improve the welfare of humanity.