Working Lives: Why did it take me so long to emigrate?

Wynand McDonald, Hillingdon Council’s local safeguarding children’s board training and development officer, moved from South Africa to west London – and doesn’t regret it

The best

Moving halfway across the world to practise social work in 2001 was my best work decision. I am from South Africa and did a degree in social work at the University of Pretoria.

I loved being a social worker in South Africa and never wanted to do anything else. But the way I had to practise and the limited options for South African service users were frustrating.

The level of poverty is high in South Africa and there was not enough provision or resources to ensure young people received the care and attention they needed. I felt I could do more and a recruitment agency put me in touch with Hillingdon Council. A few months later I moved here to join its children and families team as a senior social worker.

In England the social care system is better funded and has the potential to make a positive difference to the lives of those who need it. Although I left a management position behind in South Africa I have since had opportunities I would not have otherwise had.

I’ve been able to work on many projects in children’s services, all with different challenges. Currently, I work in a training and policy post for our safeguarding children board. Although I no longer have direct client contact, which I do miss, I help develop other professionals in the safeguarding field.

The worst

The fact that it took me so long to move and start working here in the first place was probably the worst decision I made.

I qualified as a social worker in 1991 and it was 10 years before I moved to London, even though I knew I wanted to do so soon after I qualified.

While my friends moved overseas I stayed in South Africa. I had a social work position I liked and I worked with a wide range of clients. I also felt obligated to give something back to the country that paid for my training and because I knew that when I left it was unlikely I’d ever return to South Africa to practise.

There is no denying that I feel I make a difference in my job here in England and I don’t regret that.

However, it is difficult not to feel guilt about the people who are still suffering in South Africa. There is a part of me that has never been at peace with the fact that so many people back in South Africa need help and in one respect working here feels like I’ve taken away some of the resources they so badly lack.

One day I would like to return to South Africa and see how things have changed, but my career is very much rooted in England now and I do not want to change that.

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