From the Phillipines to Wales: Asuncion Oabel-Sael

To mark World Social Work Day (16 March 2010), we asked social workers who trained overseas to tell us why they decided to practise in the UK. Here, Asuncion Oabel-Sael (pictured) describes her journey from the Philippines to South Wales

I am originally from the Quezon province of the Philippines where I worked as a social worker for 20 years, before giving up work to be with my sick mother. After her death I went to Ontario, Canada in 2001 and joined a residential home as a support worker for people with physical and learning disabilities. However, I didn’t meet the education requirements to work as a social worker, so I started to look for jobs elsewhere.

I saw an advert in the Ontario Association of Social Workers for overseas recruitment in Wales, and although I didn’t know anything about the sector there I applied and got the job. I started working for Torfaen Council in 2006.

My deep interest was in disaster management – it’s challenging as it gives me the opportunity to travel from one place to another to provide support to severely affected areas.

I was a local government social worker in Sariaya, an island municipality with 41 villages and a population of 97,000, where the area was prone to flooding.

In 1996 I worked for seven days non-stop when a typhoon hit the area and 100 people died. Working in a relief centre I helped provide food and emergency shelter for 100 families who were made homeless. I monitored the budget to ensure enough money was available to meet the needs of disaster victims. I had to provide a final list of the victims, people who were made homeless, and damage to property.

It was very scary – there were only two hours of rain but it was so heavy and caused massive floods. I saw people trying to escape from their houses. Another time I witnessed a flooded cemetery, I saw the dead bodies and bones being washed up to the surface. That is something I really want to forget but in this job you have to be brave.

I also had to tell people that their family members had died. It was very hard but I just put myself in their shoes and tried not to cry. You just have to comfort people and tell them what the next step is.

In the Philippines, social workers manage all cases: children, youths, adults and the elderly. In my home country we are well-respected, popular and considered influential in our municipality because of our important role. Social workers could even give the chief executive a winning edge at local elections.

The role is not quite as political here in Torfaen, but the majority of people here have been very welcoming and I really enjoy the work.

The funding is available for the care packages we commission and other agencies can provide the necessary support – all the needs of service users are taken care of.

Asuncion Oabel-Sael is a social worker in the disabled people’s service at Torfaen Council, South Wales

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