Coming to Peru. Working up to 60 hours per week, few days off, low pay, constant insecurity about funding for the project, limited staff numbers, working in a community perceived to be so dangerous that taxis will often refuse to take us to the office and being separated from friends and family… you might think my decision to leave my position as a social worker in the UK and go to Peru to manage Supporting Kids In Peru (Skip) was the worst I ever made.
And yet it has been an incredibly powerful and profound experience. Coming here has reinvigorated my drive and enthusiasm for social work.
In the UK I worked hard and performed well in my job. But I did feel ground down by the endless assessments and recommendations for people who, sadly, most of the time, were unable to use the support we offered.
Many would fail to engage and would, eventually, lose care of their children.
In Peru, the fundamental social difference is that there are an overwhelming number of people living in poverty who just want to be given a chance.
There are no services to refer people on to, we are pretty much it. If there are child protection concerns then we can go to court, but the court prefers parents to go themselves and denounce their own behaviour. Offer parents after-school programmes, parenting sessions, and most engage because they desperately want a chance at a better future. It’s not perfect, but the difference is striking and it makes the work we are doing feel a huge amount more useful.
I am 32 years old, I have no house, no car, no pension, no savings and a somewhat limited income.
I am not a materialistic person and right now I just need to be able to afford to live. I will be older one day, though, and I will need to be taken care of.
At this point I am not entitled to a state pension because I have worked too many years outside the UK.
Hopefully, in my old age I am not viewing the world from under a bridge wondering if it wouldn’t have made more sense to pursue a career in banking!
Liz Wilson is a qualified social worker and director of Supporting Kids in Peru, a not-for-profit organisation helping disadvantaged children on the north coast of Peru.
Published in the 1 July 2010 edition of Community Care under the heading ‘Working in the UK had curbed my enthusiasm’