Maxie is from Frankfurt, Germany. Before heading to South Africa and joining the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, she was in the Philippines volunteering in a daycare centre working with street children. Currently, she is studying towards her Social Work degree focusing on transnational issues. Having previously worked with refugees and unaccompanied minors back home, she says her passion for people and human rights issues made her choose Scalabrini as a place to come and volunteer.
Where are you from and what is your field of interest?
I am from Frankfurt, Germany, I am 23 years old, and my field of interest is transnational Social Work focusing on flight and migration. I am interested in intercultural studies and relationships. I chose social work because of my strong belief in humanity and the vision of equal opportunities.
What were you doing before volunteering at the Scalabrini Centre?
I am currently studying towards my Social Work degree and part of the course requires me to do an internship outside of Germany before I graduate, which is part of the reason I am doing my internship with the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town. Before coming to South Africa, I also volunteered in Philippines at a daycare centre called Palengke, working with street children, and I volunteered in Germany with the AWO International organisation which works with unaccompanied minors, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan.
What have you learned since joining the Scalabrini Centre?
The biggest lesson for me so far is knowing the difference between sympathy and empathy. The clients we deal with on a daily basis have been through so much, so you need to be able to differentiate between sympathizing with the clients and empathizing with them. The two lines are easy to cross. I have had to learn to leave work at the workplace; separating work from my personal life has been a huge lesson for me. In social work, the biggest challenge is forming a wall between you and your work because the lines are very thin.
You must be able to form relationships with the clients but still maintain a certain level of professionalism. People come into the centre sometimes with high expectations, and so saying “no” to them at times is tricky because the centre is all the hope they have with nowhere else to go. You need to take time understanding the clients’ story and see if you are able to help them or not.
What have been challenges since joining the Scalabrini Centre?
Asylum seeker holders don’t get any form of assistance from the government in South Africa and being unable to assist some of the clients that walk into the centre can be challenging when you know you are their last hope and resort. It is challenging sending people away because the extent of their problem is unfortunately not within the scope of assistance that the Scalabrini Centre can provide for them.
What qualities does one need to have to work in an environment such as this one?
Patience definitely! A high level of frustration tolerance, interest in people, and personal lives of others. Patience with yourself as well is extremely vital, you sometimes need to step back and pull yourself towards yourself, reflect and honour the job you’re doing.
How has your position at the Scalabrini Centre helped you grow both professionally and personally?
It’s mandatory for me to complete this internship because it is contributing towards my credits at University so I can graduate. Professionally, the internship here is helping me work towards that goal. The work at the centre has also allowed me the opportunity to note and compare the big difference between social work in South Africa and social work back home. Previously I worked with unaccompanied children and minor refugees who are a quite privileged group of refugees in Germany. Scalabrini on the other hand sees all different types of clients. The welfare team particularly deals with the most vulnerable and desperate clients, so the experience is very different. It makes me realize that the words “migrant” or “refugee” can contain different meanings in other settings, but also some struggles are always the same.
Describe a perfect day on the job.
A perfect day for me at the office would probably be a day where I meet clients with problems that are less complicated to solve. For example, clients with temporary issues which I know will be resolved within no time. However, that hardly ever happens. The home visits are also a good day on my list. Visiting the clients where they live and seeing how our assistance and intervention as the Scalabrini Centre has improved and changed their situation from what it was before is always fulfilling and good.
What are some of your most memorable moments working at the Scalabrini Centre?
I have so many moments it’s hard to pick one. One that comes to mind at the moment is actually quite a sad story. We assisted a client who is currently battling health issues whom we often assist with her medical bills. The client had just received a heart pacemaker. The client came in the same day, telling us about her surgery and the further treatment. In the end, she requested assistance with milk for her porridge because the surgery was still fresh and she had to follow a special diet as part of her recovery. That broke my heart because sometimes you have people coming into the centre asking for the world. But here was this one woman, who travelled from far to get to the centre just to ask for milk and someone to talk to. That alone shows you how desperate some people really are. The clients often become very lonely and have no one to talk to.
Would you recommend friends to volunteer at the Scalabrini Centre and why?
Yeah definitely! I really would because the programme is well integrated and offers so much experience for the interns. You meet so many different kinds of people from all over the world, and even the team is diverse with people from all over. My interactions with the clients have opened my world to a totally new perspective. It puts relations back into perspective, it takes you out of your bubble and your own problems become very tiny.
Did you experience any culture shock as an intern integrating into the Scalabrini Centre yourself?
No. I felt very welcome from the beginning. For me, it was more of the poverty shock and misery shock from clients accessing Scalabrini services. I was shocked at how much the clients can handle. Cape Town is too European for me to have a culture shock; you walk around the city centre and you think this could be France or Berlin. I was so surprised at how many similarities it has with some European countries. I was also shocked by the disparity between the rich and the poor. When you leave town and go to the townships you become very much aware of how the colonial and apartheid system worked.
What is the one thing you’d like everyone to know about the Scalabrini Centre?
Scalabrini does a great deal of holistic work that is driven by very dedicated people who are working here.
Generally, how are you finding Cape Town?
Cape Town is very European and much a symbol of colonization to me like I’ve said before, however, the nature around is great. I have had a wonderful time discovering things to do within and especially around Cape Town. I have met people from all walks of life with different cultures and life experiences in general.
What’s different about South Africa compared to your home country which you’d like to take back home with you?
I guess the laid back atmosphere. Cape Town is more laid back than Germany. The people here are quite easy going.
What are your future plans?
I will graduate in March 2018, and after that I will be a full-time Social Worker working with minor refugees. After my experience here, I don’t think anything will shock me anymore. I have seen and learned a lot at Scalabrini. The experience will allow me to handle anything that comes my way now.