I write this piece very nearly at the midpoint of our time here in Dublin, with about 27 days behind and 28 ahead. The present writing process then serves cleanly as a time for reflection, a time to step back from the busy, everyday down-in-the-weeds sort of work that can easily run the hours and days together if not broken by a disruptive step back for perspective—from up above the weeds, I suppose. It gives me a time to think about how I have directed my efforts here in the first half of the program, and to refocus on what is most important for me to accomplish in the bigger picture, so that I can feel by the end that I have been successful in my placement.
In a group conversation, we discussed how considering our organization’s theory of change—how it views the way it enacts change in the world—can help us hone in on how we can best contribute. Some organizations have a broad theory of change, one centered around policy or economics. Others have a theory of change with a smaller scope, focused primarily on the needs of individual people.
The Social Work Team for Separated Children Seeking Asylum certainly has the latter. As a result, the team faces the difficulties inherent in working towards change on the micro level, which essentially stem from the individuality of each person. While there are standard regulations that the team must follow, its cases cannot be handled the same way every time, because each young person is different, with a unique set of experiences and needs. A win for the team is meeting the needs of the young person, whatever they may be. Efforts to make change at the macro level, like policy-making, are not complicated by individual differences, as this sort of change is inherently rooted in the perception of issues common to many.
Despite its difficulties, efforts on the level of individual people is distinctly rewarding. Given its focus, it allows you to interact directly with the person you are fighting for and see all the little things that make them who they are. With macro level change, it is hard to know who has been affected, and how.
In line with this observation, my greatest joys (and my greatest challenges) on this trip have come from the people. I know that I can work with numbers and computers, and I know that I can compose documents, but people are much more dynamic than these constants. Two and two make four no matter who does the math. But no two people are the same, and that’s what makes being around people special.
Some of the moments that will stick with me most have come from seeing my Duke peers explain their tasks and difficulties in their placements animatedly, or having discussions with them that challenge the way I think. Others have come from joking with my coworkers, or hearing them talk passionately about issues they face in their efforts to help the young people who have arrived here in Ireland. Others still have come from being with the young people themselves. One prepared for lunch a meal that he used to eat back in his home country and enthusiastically shared it with me as we talked together. Another chatted casually about all the places he has seen and all the languages he knows; it later struck me that these were the countries he had passed through and the languages he was exposed to in his journey from his country to Ireland. Another always comes up to me with a big grin on his face, and it never fails to brighten my day.
All of these little wonders stand out in my mind, each of them because of the people I shared the moment with.